Thursday, January 26, 2012

Modern Pentathlon – an Olympic Sport Rich With History and Facts

Olympic Pentathlon Interesting Information and History
As many people eagerly watch and a few participate in Olympic sporting competitions, most of the sports seem familiar; however, a few may seem somewhat foreign and a bit mysterious. Such may be the case with the pentathlon. How does a 19-century legend of an officer in the French cavalry who went to great lengths to deliver a message eventually become a winter Olympic sport in which 36 men and 36 women currently compete?

The pentathlon was first introduced in 708 BC in which athletes in the 18th Greek Olympiad competed in five areas: running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing a spear, throwing a discus, and wrestling.

5 Sports in Pentathlon
When looking at the term pentathlon, many would guess that perhaps five elements are involved. According to the London 2012 Olympic pentathlon page, there are, indeed, five different components of the modern pentathlon that include individual, team, and relay portions:

  1. Fencing (round-robin tournament in which competitors face each of the other competitors and have one minute to score the first hit for a win)
  2. Swimming 200m freestyle (most pentathletes have a swimming background)
  3. Horseback riding through a 12-jump course with horses provided through a random drawing (also called equestrian show jumping, this portion is not included in the youth competition)
  4. Three sets of shooting at five targets with a 4.5mm compressed or CO2 single shot pistol
  5. Running three 1,000m sets (shooting and running are called the combined event)
Competitors are scored in each of the first three elements of the sport. The combined score will determine when each athlete will start in the running/shooting portion of the competition. The first runner to cross the finish line is declared the winner at the conclusion of the final running set.

General George S. Patton Competed in Pentathlon in 1912
Photo from U.S. Library of Congress
The sport has been part of the Olympics for 100 years. George S. Patton competed and placed fifth in the first modern Olympic pentathlon competition in 1912 in Stockholm. Women began to compete in the Olympic modern pentathlon at the 2000 games in Sydney. In 1986 in Atlanta, the modern pentathlon competition was shortened from four or five days to a single day.

Modern pentathletes of a variety of ages compete for points. Learn more about these athletes and their standings at the biographies page. I found it interesting to learn that a 25-year-old from the United States named Sam Sackson broke the world shooting record for five shots in 9.03 seconds. Some of the forerunner countries in the modern pentathlon according to the current statistics listed on the site are Russia, Hungary, and Ukraine. Andras Balczo from Hungary is one of the most famous Olympic pentathletes, who won three gold medals and two silver medals in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Olympic Modern Pentathlon Reaches 100 Year Mark
I find this to be a very interesting Olympic competition celebrating 100 years that involves a variety of elements, such as agility, speed, coordination, self-discipline, and overall physical fitness. Someone who is an excellent swimmer might not excel at fencing. The fastest runner may not be the best shot. Those who are great at riding could easily struggle with one of the other four facets of the face-off. Being well-rounded is probably key to placing well in the modern pentathlon, and the recent entry of women into the competition could open the playing field for some otherwise unknown athletes. It will be interesting to see how the pentathletes approach the shooting portion when mixed with the running competition as well.

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