Rules of Modern Pentathlon | How it is Played?

Modern Pentathlon is a combination of multiple sports, but the unique thing about this sporting event is an athlete has to participate in all these 5 sports in some sequence. These include Fencing, Swimming, Jumping, combined pistol shooting and cross-country race. All these sports have some specifications regarding the jumping, running and swimming course.

Despite sounding like an unusual sport, it has been part of the Olympics since 1912, several attempts were made by naysayers to remove it from the Olympics but none of them succeeded to do so. In fact, the game became more popular and now world champions for modern pentathlon are also held annually.

Curiosity to find out where this game was formed is legit here, but unfortunately the history of this game is quite blurry and is it still disputed who actually invented this game. There are multiple theories, Baron Pierre de Corbertin, who is the founder of the modern olympics games, claims the authorship of this sporting event.

While Viktor Black, who is the president of the Organizing committee for the 1912 games, claims that he invented this sport after being inspired by the long tradition of Swedish military multi-sports events. Regardless of the fact who invented this game, it is fun to watch and I’m sure you’d be eager to learn how it is played.

Object of Playing Modern Pentathlon

As this sport is a combination of multiple sports, Pentathlon requires one single athlete to have multiple skills for the games played in it. If you are participating in a Pentathlon event, your goal is to score as many points as you can in fencing, swimming and riding. The better you performa in Fencing, swimming and riding, the more chance you’ll have of winning the event.

How to Play Modern Pentathlon

Modern Pentathlon consists of 5 different games. Each game is held as a separate event, and the first three games play a cardinal role in deciding your position for the last 2 games. All athletes, therefore try to acquire as many points as they can in the first 3 games, and for which, they have to show superior skill levels in fencing, swimming and riding.

To learn about the rules followed in each game, you can find out every single rule associated with all 5 games in the section below.


It may sound absurd to some but all the effort you made in the first 3 rounds was all about finding a greater head start in the last round. The winner of the entire competition is determined by who finishes the first in the Shooting and Cross Country racing.

General Rules of Modern Pentathlon

Because of the fact it consists of different events, we have to break down the rules for different sports separately.


Fencing (epee discipline) involves two players with protective equipment on and swords in hand trying to hit each other in permitted parts of the body in order to win the game. The first one to hit wins the game immediately. It is played in one bout of one minute, and if both players fail to score during this time, they both lose the game.


Swimming is a freestyle race here, the length of the pool can vary, until 2012 it was 300 meters. All swimmers are supposed to swim on the surface of water, only for the first 15 meters they are allowed to swim underwater, the rest of the distance must be covered by conventional swimming. Players must touch the wall upon completing the race, no player is allowed to cause any obstruction in his opponents’ ways by any means. Mostly, they swim in lanes.

Riding & Jumping

In this part of the game, athletes paired with horses jump over a 250-450 meter course with a dozen obstacles perched on their ways. Horses are paired with athletes based on draw results which takes place before the start of the game. You are given a certain number of points based on how well you ride, how clean your jumps were and how you treated your horse. Athletes can be disqualified for mistreating their horses.

Shooting and Cross Country Racing

In short, this game involves shooting and running. Players stand side by side on different tables and having different aims to target, they are supposed to hit five targets with a pistol in each four rounds, loading the laser again or any other gun being used after each shot. They resume running after hitting 5 successful shots in each round, but if they fail to do so, in 50 seconds, they still have to run. The fastest to complete these four rounds wins the game.

Shooting and Cross Country racing is the most exciting part of this event, that’s why it has some strict rules. During the race, players are not allowed to take any type of refreshment drink. Any player found to be causing any type of obstruction in his opponents’ ways is disqualified from the game.

Time Duration of Modern Pentathlon

Modern Pentathlon lasts for 4 days, with different events being played on each day. It’s not a small event, hundreds of athletes from all over the world participate in it, so it is bound to go one for longer than a day or two.

Playing Equipment

The equipment required for each sport varies, so as the playing arena. That’s another reason why this event continues for days. Let me mention the equipment for each sport separately.


Since Fencing is played on epee discipline, the sword used is of epee model. Moreover, players wear masks, gloves, kevlar jackets over their bodies, and their under arms are protected by “Sous Plastron”. Players in Fencing don’t fight barefoot but special types of shoes are used by both players for the protection of the feet.


Swimming equipment includes goggles, traditional swimming suits (usually aerodynamic swimsuits). Moreover, it’s up to the players if he wants to wear a cap or not, these caps keep the hairs away from eyes during swimming. Some players may also use trunks for the protection of the groin area.

Riding & jumping

The most important equipment of this sport is a horse, which is paired with a player after a draw. This horse has a reign which the rider uses to control the horse. Furthermore, the horse is equipped with other necessary controlling equipment required to make the horse steer, jump and come to a stop.

One of the modern devices used in Horses is Martingale, this is used to prevent the horse from tossing his head and making the rider fall off him. This is a great way to prevent injuries during the race as horses can easily get out of control if the rider doesn’t execute any jump properly.


The distance between the target and shooter keeps changing, so as the type of pistol. However, the basic objective remains the same. Until 2009, the shooting discipline involved a shooter standing 10 meter away from the stationary target and firing at it with a 4.5mm (1.77 cal) air pistol.

Cross Country Running

In Cross Country Running, players wear only essential clothes, a sleeveless shirt and shorts mostly. Moreover, they wear airy cross-country shoes with tiny spikes at their bases, in this way, they enjoy better ground grip and they also help them to run faster and cover more distance in less time.

Playing Field

Each of the sports have their separate playing fields.

Fencing: Fencing is done in a small area with out of bounds area marked and the player is not allowed to cross that line. Other than that, there are no specific dimensions related to it.

Swimming: The length of the swimming pool may vary, it can be up to 300 meters. In traditional swimming, players have their lanes marked with help of ropes stretching till the end of the pool.

Riding: Horse riding and jumping is done in spacious ground dotted with obstacles.

Shooting and Running: Shooting is done at a certain distance from the target, which is usually etched on some board. After successfully shooting, players run down the street with spectators standing on either side and complete the lap to complete one round.


Each game is watched by the judge, the role of judges can vary from game to game. For instance, in swimming, they might not have to do much except to see if all the athletes are swimming on the surface of water after the first 15 meters. Similarly, in riding and jumping, they’ll see the cleanliness of the jump and how the rider treats his horse and give marks accordingly.

Scoring in Modern Pentathlon

The first three games are won by scoring more points, the better you perform the more points you get. And in the last two games, which are played combinely, the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first. The best performers of the first three rounds get the advantage in the last 2 games in the form of greater “head start” which means they’ll have less distance to cover.

Famous Modern Pentathlon Events

As said earlier, Modern Pentathlon has been part of Olympics since 1912, moreover, due to the surge in its popularity, Annual Modern Pentathlon Championships are held on different venues in which players from different countries participate and show their athleticism.

Governing Body

The Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne is the international governing body of this sport. The mission of this body is to strengthen this sport by growing global participation and giving more people a chance to show their skills in Olympic games.