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The presumption is that modern pentathlon is called “modern” because Baron de Coubertin, who conceived of the first modern Olympics in 1896, also developed the first Olympic pentathlon and introduced it to the Games in 1912. To do that, he drew on the past, emphasizing the skills theoretically required of army couriers for survival and success in times of war in the early 1800s. The basic premise behind the modern pentathlon is that a soldier is ordered to deliver a message. He starts out on the back of an unfamiliar horse, but is forced to dismount and fight a duel with swords. He escapes, but is trapped and has to shoot his way out with a pistol. Then he swims across a river, and finally he finishes his assignment by running 3,000 meters through the woods. The danger of an ambush may be long past, but skill, exertion, and endurance are all required to finish this event.

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Points are added or subtracted against a par of 1,000 points for each event except equestrian, which has a maximum of 1,100. The athlete with the highest overall point total after the five events wins the gold medal. The team score consists of the scores of the top three athletes from each nation.

All five events—shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian, and running, in that order—are contested in one day. All five disciplines are the same for men and women and are held in the same order. The shooting competition has the athletes fire 20 shots at targets 10 meters away using, 4.5mm pistols. Athletes have 40 seconds to fire each shot, which is worth 10 target points. A perfect score is 200 target points. Fencing competitors use épée swords in bouts of no more than one minute. The winner of a bout is the first to score a hit in the target area, which is the whole body. An electronic tip at the end of the sword registers hits. If there are no hits, both fencers lose. Scoring is based on the percentage of wins. In the swimming competition, athletes swim a 200-meter freestyle. Point totals are based on times, and swimmers are placed in heats and lanes based on their personal best times from the preceding season. The show-jumping equestrian event requires the athletes to ride an unfamiliar horse over an unfamiliar 350-400-meter course that has twelve jumps. Horses ridden are drawn by lot from a pool of one horse for every two competitors. The athlete with the highest cumulative point total from the first three events has first draw of the horses and rides first. The 3,000-meter run is the final event of the daylong competition. The leader through the first four events starts first, and this staggered start is achieved by converting every two-point differential in the total score of the first four events into a half-second difference. The order in which the athletes finish in the run determines the final standings.

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Canoeing & Kayaking





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Synchronized Swimming

Table Tennis


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Track & Field



Water Polo



General Sports Links
Olympians will compete in dozens of sports this summer. Even though Gateway to the Summer Games can't feature them all, you can learn about each and every one by visiting the sites listed below.

Portions of the above text were excerpted from Share the Olympic Dream--Volume II.
© 2001 by Griffin Publishing Group/United States Olympic Committee.

For information on purchasing Griffin materials, please visit the Griffin Publishing Group Web site at http://www.griffinpublishing.com.


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Coaches Notes

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