Pentathlon is an Olympic event comprising five different sporting events. It was first introduced in ancient Greece as part of the ‘Olympic Games’ and the other ‘Panhellenic Games’. It featured the athletic activities of Long Jump, Javelin, Discus Throwing, Foot Race, and Wrestling. The modern version of the pentathlon differs slightly from the ancient Greek one, and it comprises Shooting, Swimming, Fencing, Equestrianism, and Cross Country Running.
Pentathlon in Ancient Greece
The word ‘Pentathlon’ is a combination of the Greek words ‘PENTE’ and ‘ATHLON’. ‘Pente’ means five and ‘Athlon’ means competition. Therefore, pentathlon was the name given to the athletic event comprising five different sporting events. It was first included in the Olympic Games and the other PanHellenic games in ancient Greece in 708 BC. The events were held in the following order: The Long Jump, Javelin Throw and the Discus Throw were held first. The Foot Race was then held before the final event, wrestling.
Discus is a round object that looks very similar to a Frisbee. It was normally made of wood, stone or lead. In discus throwing, the competitor could throw the discus five times. The furthest throw was recorded and measured against the furthest throw of other competitors.
Javelins are actually spears. Like discus throwing, the javelin was thrown by the competitors and were allowed a maximum of 5 throws and the farthest throw was then recorded.
The long jump that was part of the ancient Greek Pentathlon differed slightly from the one we see today. Unlike the modern version, the pentathletes did not make an initiating run before making their jump. They used to make a standing jump instead. To help them make a longer jump, they were given two jumping weights shaped like telephone receivers made of stone known as ‘falterers’.
The foot races were of four categories. There was a 192-metre race, a 384-metre race and a long-distance run that ranged from 1,344 to 4608 metres.
The wrestling event in the ancient Greek version of the pentathlon was not so different from any modern version of wrestling (except WWE). All kinds of grappling and holding techniques were allowed, but of course biting or attacking the genitals was illegal.
Pentathlon in Modern Era
For many centuries, the pentathlon remained an old lost sporting event, but then in 1906, the event was revived in Athens, Greece. Until 1912, the ancient format of the game was rigidly followed before Pierre de Coubertin came and introduced a new format of the game. Two separate styles of the game were then being held. The first style followed the pattern of the games held in ancient Greece while the new pattern was created by Pierre de Coubertin and is now referred to as the modern pentathlon. The modern pentathlon comprises the following activities:
Epee Fencing: Two pentathletes face each other in a one-on-one sword fight. The sword is known as an epee, and is very thin and slender. All the athletes face others once, and who manages to hit his/her opponent once wins.
Pistol Shooting: Standing 10 metres away from each target, a shooter uses a pistol to shoot 20 times at 20 different targets within a time limit of 40 seconds.
Freestyle Swimming: A 400-metre swimming race used to be held before, but now the length of the swimming track has been lessened to 300 metres.
Show Jumping on Horseback: Each competitor is given a random horse. They are given 20 minutes to become friendly with their horses. After that, they have to ride their horses over a series of hurdles within a specific amount of time.
Cross Country Run: The competitors have to take part in a foot race on a track measuring 3000 metres long. The track is not oval but twisted to resemble a country road.
After 1924, the ancient Greek format of the pentathlon event was abandoned and since then, only the new style was followed.
The Olympic event of the pentathlon served as a kind of military training for soldiers. The events were designed to improve skills in the soldiers as being necessary to win battles. Aristotle describes a young man's ultimate physical beauty: “a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength…This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful.” –Aristotle, Rhetoric 1361b
Modern Pentathlon events were also designed to train soldiers for war, based on the skills necessary for wars in the modern era. Pierre de Coubertin, who designed the format of the modern games, was inspired by the heroic tale of a French soldier in the Napoleonic era.
As the story goes, a French soldier was sent by Napoleon to enemy territory to deliver a message. The soldier went on an unfamiliar horse and on the way; he met an enemy soldier who wouldn’t allow him to go forward. So the two duelled and the French soldier won. He continued his journey on horseback, but he confronted the enemy again, who shot his horse and killed it. He killed the enemy with his gun and then continued his journey forward. He then swam through a river and finally succeeded in delivering the message.
And this the story that inspired Pierre de Coubertin to come up with all the games of modern pentathlon.
Panhellenic- Of or relating to all the Greeks