In athletics, pentathlon is a contest wherein the participating athletes compete in five different sporting events. The term 'pentathlon' is a combination of two Greek words 'pente' meaning five and '-athlos' meaning competition. (Similarly when the participating athletes compete in ten different events, it is known as 'decathlon', and when in three different events, it is known as 'triathlon'.) The athletes who take part in this event are referred to as pentathletes.
The origins of pentathlon can be traced to ancient Olympics, wherein athletics was used primarily to help soldiers develop various skills which could come handy during a war. This fact is aptly highlighted by the choice of sporting events in the original pentathlon, as well as those in modern pentathlon.
Pentathlon in Ancient Olympics
The first instance of including pentathlon as an Olympic event can be traced back to Ancient Greek Olympics, wherein the athletes had to compete in five different sporting events to win the competition. These five Ancient Olympic pentathlon events were:
- Long jump: An event wherein the athlete had to leap from a particular point and cover as much distance as possible.
- Javelin throw: Javelin throw is an event wherein the athlete had to throw a spear - known as the javelin, and cover as much distance as possible.
- Discus throw: An event wherein the athlete had to throw a heavy disc - known a discus, and cover as much distance as possible.
- Stadion: An ancient running event which took place in a building which was also known as 'stadion'.
- Wrestling: Wrestling involves a hand-to-hand combat between two pentathletes.
A closer look at these events reveals that each of these were quite useful during a war. These were the times wherein there were no firearms and ammunition used, and soldiers from both the sides took on each other bare-handed or with the help of weapons such as spears and daggers. Taking the importance of various skills which were tested in pentathlon into consideration, pentathletes were considered to be the most skilled athletes of the lot and their training was often a part of the military service.
Pentathlon in Modern Olympics
As the new era of Olympic games dawned, the events in these games also changed. The new version of pentathlon, which was referred to as 'modern pentathlon' to differentiate it from the original pentathlon, was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin - who is also considered the Father of Modern Olympics for his efforts to revive this sporting event. Modern pentathlon featured in the Olympics for the very first time in 1912. The five modern Olympic pentathlon events were:
- A pistol shooting competition.
- Épée fencing, a type of fencing.
- 200 meter freestyle swimming competition.
- Show jumping, an equestrian event.
- 3 km cross-country run.
While the original pentathlon events concentrated on skills of the soldiers of that era, modern events concentrated on the skills of soldiers of modern era - who had to fight with pistol and ride a horse, other than being able to run and swim. Yet another difference between the original and modern pentathlon was the fact that the modern pentathlon had a scoring system wherein each event earned the pentathlete points on 1000 point scale. As per the modern pentathlon scoring system, points of overall events are combined to decide the winner. This means that the pentathletes don't have to indulge in direct competition against each other, with épée fencing being the only exception.
Andrey Moiseyev - a Russian pentathlete, won the Olympic gold medal for pentathlon in 2004 as well as 2008 summer Olympics. The governing body for this event, today, is the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), the International Modern Pentathlon Union. Since its inception in modern Olympics in 1912, pentathlon has been testing the skills of various athletes around the world - and this very fact makes it the most challenging event of the games.