Modern Pentathlon Rules

Modern Pentathlon

Modern Pentathlon is a multi-platform sporting event that includes five different stages: fencing, 200m swimming (freestyle), show jumping and a combined pistol shooting and 3200m cross-country race. All of the stages are completed over the course of a single day. The performance of an athlete in the first three events will dictate their starting position for the shooting/racing combination event at the end of the Modern Pentathlon. The athlete who crosses the finish line first in the final run is declared the overall winner of the entire competition.

Modern Pentathlon is believed to have originated in the 19th Century in Greece, although several individuals have claimed to have invented the sport and this continues to be a source of debate to this day.

The events performed in Modern Pentathlon have varied slightly over time, and up until the 1950s, only cavalry troops participated in the competition. Modern Pentathlon was designed specifically to simulate a soldier’s experience of escaping from behind enemy lines, and cavalry troops were considered to be the only individuals that possessed the diverse skillset required to complete each event. Modern Pentathlon was eventually opened to all men in 1952 and all women in 1981.

Hungary is the current world leader in Modern Pentathlon at the Summer Olympics with 22 medals overall. Sweden is close behind with 21 medals, whilst the Soviet Union claimed 15 and Russia have 5.

Object of the Game

Modern Pentathlon requires athletes to have a diverse and varied skillset in order to complete a series of different events. The object of the game is for participants to rank as highly possible in the first three events so that they are in the best possible position for the combined shooting/racing event at the end of the competition. The greater their starting position, the more likely an athlete will be to win the final race and be declared the overall winner.

Players & Equipment

Given how Modern Pentathlon consists of five separate events, there is a vast and varied amount of equipment involved. This includes:

Fencing Equipment

The fencing stage in a Modern Pentathlon involves competing against another athlete in a sword battle. Along with the sword (which is an “Epee” model in Modern Pentathlon), athletes must wear protective clothing from top to bottom. This includes a metal mesh mask for the face, a “Sous-Plastron” for under the arms, a kevlar jacket for the body, “breechers” for the thighs, legs and knees, special shoes for the feet and gloves for good hand grip.

Swimming Equipment

The equipment for the swimming stage in Modern Pentathlon is fairly basic. Along with light, aerodynamic swimsuits, athletes will often also wear goggles to protect their eyes and improve their vision whilst under water. Caps may also be worn to prevent hair from being caught in their eyes during the race and trunks offer an added layer of protection for the groin area.

Show Jumping Equipment

For the show jumping event, the athlete will need to effectively utilise different types of horse controlling equipment in order to dictate the movements of the animal. This equipment is known as “horse tack” and includes the saddle (the rider’s seat), the stirrups (footholds for the rider), the halters (headgear for the horse), the reins (leather strips the rider pulls on the change the horse’s direction) and the Martingale (a safety device that stops the horse from tossing its head and injuring the rider).

Pistol Shooting Equipment

Traditionally, Modern Pentathlon players were permitted to pick out a pistol of their preference for the shooting stage. However, the standard variants of pistols (multi-barrelled pistols, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols) have now been replaced with laser pistols instead.

Cross Country Run Equipment

The running event in Modern Pentathlon is the one that requires the least amount of equipment. Participants wear light clothing (vests and shorts) and airy cross-country shoes to help them cover lots of ground over the shortest possible period of time. These shoes tend to have tiny spikes at the base to help the athlete maintain their grip on the track.


Modern Pentathlon competitors are occasionally known as “Pentathletes”.


Scoring for Modern Pentathlon is different for each event. Athletes earn points in the fencing, swimming and horse riding events, and the higher they score, the greater “head start” they’ll be given for the combined shooting/racing event at the end. From that point onwards, the winner is simply the athlete who crosses the finish line first.


The winner of a Modern Pentathlon competition is the athlete that crosses the finish line first in the final shooting/racing event. The amount of points they score in the earlier events simply determines where they begin on the track.

Rules of Modern Pentathlon

All five sports involved in Modern Pentathlon have different rules and regulations that athletes must follow.

Fencing Rules

In Modern Pentathlon fencing, athletes must use an Epee that has a curve of less than 1 cm, and must not strike an opponent before the command “Allez!” is shouted or after the command “Halte!” is announced. Doing so will lead to penalisation.

Swimming Rules

During the swimming stage, athletes are permitted to swim underwater for the first 15 metres, but after this point must keep some of their body above the surface. Athletes must touch the wall when they reach the end of the pool and turn back, and cannot obstruct an opponent in any way during a race.

Show Jumping Rules

Athletes must show respect, courtesy and professionalism during the show jumping stage of the Modern Pentathlon. The horse must follow directions, timing, and stay within the competition court, and if there is any evidence of poor treatment toward the animal, the athlete is promptly disqualified.

Shooting and Cross Country Racing Rules

During the combination event at the end of the Modern Pentathlon, athletes must wait until the minimum shooting time is over at the pistol stage before they can begin running again. Athletes found to be obstructing opponents in any way will risk being disqualified from the entire event.