The founder of the modern Olympic Games, the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, created the modern pentathlon specifically for the Summer Olympic Games and was first made a part of the Games in 1912. Coubertin found inspiration from the Ancient Olympic Games which had its own version of the pentathlon event which was modelled after the skills of the ideal solder at the time.
The modern pentathlon attempts to simulate the experience that was expected of a 19th century cavalry soldier who would be behind enemy lines. The soldier would be expected to be able to ride a horse that they were unfamiliar with, be able to shoot, be able to fight with a sword, be able to swim long distances and run across country. In order to emulate this, the current pentathlon comprises of five separate sports: epee fencing, pistol shooting, 200 metre freestyle swimming, show jumping on horseback, and 3km run which after 2020 will be performed cross country.
The current leader of the medal table is Hungary, which has 22 medals, of which 9 are gold. Closely followed is Sweden, which also have 9 gold medals but have one less silver medal than Hungary, making Sweden‘s medal total 21. Since 1912 there have been men’s individual pentathlon events in every Summer Olympics, but between the years 1952 and 1992 there were also men’s team events, currently there are no known plans to bring back any pentathlon team events. Women have been able to compete in pentathlon events since the year 2000.
The very first documented pentathlon event took place in Ancient Greece in 708 BC, and was also held at the other Panhellenic Games. The name “pentathlon” derives from Greek words which translates to “five competitions”. The event was particularly popular and lent itself to illustrations on the various styles of pottery that was popular at the time. The event even inspired and featured in Greek mythology where the mythical hero Perseus managed to fulfil a prophecy given by an oracle by accidentally killing Acrisus with a discus while competing in a pentathlon event.
In Greece, Jason was given the credit for having had invented the pentathlon and he went on to declare his fellow hero Peleus the very first winner of the event after Peleus’ victory in wrestling. Due to the varying nature of the event and the range of skills required, pentathlon athletes were held in high regard at that time.