As the modern pentathlon enters a new era at the Paris Olympic Games, learn more about the history of one of the Olympics' oldest sports.

When was the modern pentathlon added to the Olympics?

The modern pentathlon was first added to the Olympic program in 1912 for the Stockholm Games. Gosta Lilliehook, representing host Sweden, won the inaugural Olympic gold medal.

The women's event was added at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, with Great Britain's Stephanie Cook winning gold.


Who is the father of the modern pentathlon?

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, also the father of the modern Olympic Games, is known as the father of this event, as well.

The event initially served as a twist on the military aspect of the ancient pentathlon, focusing on the soldierly skills like shooting, swimming, fencing, equestrian and running. 

Modern pentathlon's Olympic journey: Year-by-year

Tokyo, 2020

A British sweep took place at the Tokyo Games, with Joe Choong and Kate French winning gold medals in the men’s and women’s events. Choong broke the Olympic record with his performance of 1,482 points and won the first men’s modern pentathlon gold for his country. French also set a new Olympic record with 1,385 points in a dominant performance.

Rio, 2016

Russia’s Aleksander Lesun won the men’s event with a then-Olympic record of 1,479 points, beating out Ukraine’s Paolo Tymoschenko for the commanding victory. In the women’s event, Australia’s Chloe Esposito won gold for her country. Esposito entered the final event in seventh place but stormed back to win the gold medal with a then-Olympic record of 1,372 points.

London, 2012

Big changes were introduced in London. The running and shooting events were grouped together as a combined event, and laser pistols were used for the first time. David Svoboda of the Czech Republic won the gold medal, while Cao Zhongrong claimed the silver, the first for China in modern pentathlon. In the women's competition, gold medalist Laura Asadauskaite of Lithuania broke the Olympic record.

Beijing, 2008

Once again leaving little doubt as to the outcome, Russia's Andrey Moiseyev led after the first four disciplines-shooting, fencing, swimming and equestrian-which allowed him to start the 3000-meter run 13 seconds ahead of the field. He won by 21 seconds to become the first repeat champion in the men's pentathlon since Lars Hall of Sweden in 1952 and 1956.

Athens, 2004

Russian Andrey Moiseyev didn't leave anything to chance in the men's competition, winning fencing and swimming outright and building a more-than-sufficient lead for the final event, the 3000m run. Just how big was it? Moiseyev had time to stop and pick up a Russian flag along the way and still completed the course 13 seconds ahead of silver medalist Andrejus Zadneprovskis of Lithuania, and 22 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Libor Capalini of the Czech Republic. Hungary's Zsuzsanna Voros won the women's gold. 

Sydney, 2000

In the Olympic debut of women's modern pentathlon, Emily DeRiel of the United States won a silver medal after being overtaken in the run by Britain's Stephanie Cook, her Oxford University teammate. Cook's countrywoman, Kate Allenby, won bronze and American Mary Beth Iagorashvili, in third place before the run, finished fourth.

Atlanta, 1996

After alternating between a four-day and five-day schedule over the years, modern pentathlon became a one-day event for the Atlanta Games. Leading the run in the final stretch, Russia's Eduard Zenovka tripped and fell while trying to steal a look back at the rest of the field. He was passed and finished second to Aleksandr Parygin of Kazakhstan. 

Seoul, 1988

The Soviet Union's Vakhtang Iagorashvili led after four events but ran poorly and placed third. He later wed fellow modern pentathlete Mary Beth Larsen of the United States and competed for his adopted nation. Rob Stull, the best U.S. chance for a medal in Seoul, drew a horse that refused to complete the riding competition, and he finished 49th overall. 

Los Angeles, 1984

Prior to the 1984 Games, in an effort to increase excitement at the modern pentathlon's conclusion, a chase start was implemented for the run phase. Previously, athletes began in random order, but now the leader after four events started first and the rest of the field was handicapped based on scores. Sweden's Svante Rasmuson, who began second, passed leader Daniele Masala of Italy with 50m left. But an exhausted Rasmuson tripped over a potted plant, allowing Masala to take the gold. 

Montreal, 1976

Boris Onishchenko, the 1972 silver medalist, registered two false touches in the fencing competition. When his opponents complained, Onyschenko's epee was found wired with a circuit breaker, allowing him to score at the push of a button. He was immediately disqualified and his previous medal was tainted.

Mexico City, 1968

For the riding portion of the 1968 Olympic modern pentathlon, West Germany's Hans-Jurgen Todt drew a horse named Ranchero, which balked three times at obstacles and knocked him out of medal contention. His years of training seemingly wasted, Todt attacked the horse; teammates were needed to restrain him. Sweden's Bjorn Ferm won the gold by just 11 points.

Helsinki, 1952

Lars Hall, a Swede, became the first civilian to win Olympic gold in a sport designed for military officers. Hall, a carpenter, returned in 1956 and became the first and only repeat winner of the modern pentathlon. 

London, 1948

Capt. William Grut of Sweden won three of the five events (riding, fencing and swimming) in the London modern pentathlon, en route to claiming gold by the most lopsided margin in Olympic history. American George Moore won silver. The 33-year-old Grut, who made it six out of seven modern pentathlon golds for Sweden, placed second in a Winter Olympics' pentathlon demonstration event earlier in the year. 

Berlin, 1936

Lt. Charles Leonard, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., became the first person to score a perfect 200 in modern pentathlon's shooting competition. He wound up second overall, behind Gotthard Handrick of host country Germany. 

Los Angeles, 1932: Richard Mayo excelled in riding, fencing and shooting, clung to his lead despite a poor swim, but fell to third after a 17th-place finish in the run. His bronze was the United States' first medal in the sport. John Gabriel Oxenstierna of Sweden won gold. 


In the first five Games that included modern pentathlon, Sweden captured 13 of the 15 medals. German Helmuth Kahl (bronze, 1928) and American Richard Mayo (bronze, 1932) were the only non-Swedes to climb an Olympic medal podium between 1912 and 1932. 

Origin of modern pentathlon

At the ancient Olympics, pentathlon included discus, javelin, distance jumping, running and wrestling. After reviving the Games in 1896, Pierre de Coubertin "modernized" the pentathlon, making it a test of "a man's moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal, complete athlete." The narrative behind the event told of a soldier ordered to deliver a message on horseback. When the horse went down, he was forced to defend himself with both a sword and pistol. He completed his mission by swimming across a river and running a long distance through the woods.