Modern pentathlon at the Tokyo Games will comprise two medal events, one for men and one for women. The sport, as the name suggests, features five distinct disciplines, which are contested across four phases of competition in a single day, in the following order:
- Fencing (epee)
- Swimming (200m freestyle)
- Riding (jumping)
- Shooting (20 targets) and Running (four 800m laps)
A men’s team event was contested from 1952-1992, with the United States winning three silver medals and a bronze. Individually, the last American man to climb an Olympic podium in modern pentathlon was Bob Beck (silver) at the 1960 Rome Games. The U.S. has one women’s medal: Emily Deriel’s silver from the 2000 Sydney Games, where the women’s event debuted.
Two events will be contested in Tokyo:
- Men’s individual competition
- Women’s individual competition
Modern Pentathlon features five disciplines: fencing, riding, swimming and a combined running/shooting event called the laser run. Both the men’s and the women’s competition take two days. The fencing ranking rounds for both men and women will take place on day one while swimming, the fencing bonus round, riding, and the laser run will take place on day two (women) and day three (men). Points earned in the first three events decide the starting position for the laser run. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins the gold medal.
The ranking round is organized as a round robin. Each of the 36 athletes will fence against all other athletes in 35 bouts, each lasting one minute. If a touch is not scored within that time limit, both competitors register a defeat.
A total score of 70% victories (25 bouts) equals 250 MP (Modern Pentathlon) points. Each victory adds six MP points and each defeat deducts six MP points. If an athlete fails to score any victories in the ranking round they will score zero MP points.
The ranking round will take approximately three hours.
Points earned in the ranking round carry over to the bonus round. All 36 athletes participate in the fencing bonus round. The start list is based on the results of the ranking round. The two lowest ranked competitors from the ranking round face each other in a 30-second elimination-style bout with the winner advancing to face the next lowest ranked competitor. This continues until all athletes have competed in the bonus round. Each victory is worth one MP point except the final bout, where the top ranked fencer can score two MP points with a win. Athletes do not lose points if they are defeated.
The bonus round will take approximately one-hour.
Athletes swim a 200m freestyle race. Each athlete is placed into a heat based on their fastest Pentathlon World Ranking (PWR) swimming time within the last 12 months. Points are awarded based on finishing times, rather than placement.
A time of 2 minutes, 30 seconds earns 250 Modern Pentathlon points. One MP point is added or deducted for every half-second faster or slower than this time. A false start is given 10 penalty points.
The men’s and women’s swimming portion will each take approximately 30 minutes.
The athletes must complete 15 jumps over 12 show jumping obstacles. Athletes are paired with their horse using a draw (all athletes complete the riding portion of the competition on a horse they’ve never practiced with). Once paired, each athlete has 20 minutes to warmup with their horse before they compete.
The start order is the reverse of the overall ranking after the previous events.
Jumps are up to 120 cm (about 47 inches) tall and 130 cm (about 51 inches) wide, and include one double and one triple obstacle.
In a change since Rio, the riding show jumping course is now between 400m to 450m in length. The time allowed for the competition depends on the course, but will be between 1 minute and 1 minute, 9 seconds. Competitors start with 300 points and have points deducted for penalties (which are detailed in the rule book).
The men’s and women’s riding portion will each take approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes.
In this final combined event, athletes will run four circuits of a course. Each circuit includes five shooting targets at one station (for a total of 20 targets over the course of the run). Competitors stand 10 meters away from the targets and have 50 seconds to shoot all five using a laser pistol. The competitor with the most MP points from the first three events will start first while the remaining athletes will start with a time handicap of 1 second for every one MP point behind the leader. The athlete who crosses the finish line first wins the gold medal.
The men and women’s laser run will each take approximately 20 minutes.
If there is a tie in MP points between two or more athletes after two, three or four phases and placings cannot be determined by laser-run photo-finish, the athlete with the best result in the last phase will be ranked in the higher position. If the tie remains, the athlete with the best result in the previous phase will be ranked in the higher position, and so on. If the tie cannot be broken, the athlete with the higher PWR will be ranked higher.