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Pentathlon From Ancient Greece to Modern Time

Pentathlon is one of the most demanding sports disciplines in the world. And the reason is very simple. This single competition consists of five different sports disciplines. So, those who want to participate in a pentathlon need to complete all five of these challenges with top scores.

However, pentathlon changed over the years to become the sports that we know and love today. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at pentathlon history from its beginnings in Ancient Greece to modern times.

The Birth of Pentathlon

Staatliche Antikensammlungen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We can’t be sure when the pentathlon was invented, however, the first documented event dates back to 708 BC as a part of the Ancient Olympic Games in Ancient Greece. The name of this discipline was taken from the Greek language and it means five competitions. The first pentathlon games proved to be so popular that they quickly became an inspiration for artists to paint them on pottery. Moreover, the new sport also found its way to the stories from Greek mythology (when Perseus kills Acrisius). In Ancient Greece, participants who participated in pentathlon competed in a short race by foot, long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, and wrestling. With so many different skills needed to compete in the pentathlon, even the greatest philosophers of Ancient Greece like Aristotle considered these athletes the most powerful and enduring of all men. What is more, the training that pentathlon athletes had to endure in those days, was part of the military service that was used to prepare men for battle. 

Historians are still unsure about the way that winner was chosen during the pentathlon events in Ancient Greece. According to one theory, the winner was the one who managed to win in all five disciplines. But, there is another, more probable theory, which claims that the best competitors from the first four disciplines would later fight for the title in the final event, which was wrestling. 

Modern-Day Pentathlon

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars, U.S. Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time that pentathlon was held again after many centuries was at the Olympic Games in 1906. The competition included running, discus throw, long jump, javelin throw, and Greco-Roman wrestling. There was a slight change in the Games that were held in 1912, so the event consisted of 200 meters race, long jump, 1500 meters race, discus throw, and javelin throw. 

However, in the same year, a new model for the competition was introduced. This model was invented by Pierre de Coubertin and it is considered the modern-day pentathlon.

Since the original pentathlon was meant to reflect the training of Ancient soldiers, Pierre de Coubertin wanted to do the same with the modern version. So after closely observing the soldiers and how they are trained, he proposed that the new pentathlon should include fencing, shooting, swimming, cross-country running, and show jumping. Each competitor would gain points for every individual discipline, and the one with the most points combined would be proclaimed the winner. The first time that women participated in pentathlon was in the 2000 Summer Olympics.