The Pentathlon has been the heart of the Olympic games for much longer than most would imagine. Starting from the Ancient Olympic Games, and other Panhellenic Games (sport festivals) of Ancient Greece to the Modern Olympics Pentathlon.
The name has a simple etymology and derives from the Greek words pente (five) and athlon (competition) and obviously names a competition which incorporates five different elements.
A pentathlon was first held at the 18th Ancient Olympiad around 708 BC, when wrestling was added to the other four sport elements – long jump (a standing jump, using two stone or metal weights), javelin throw (elder wood javelins, about the height of the athlete and thrown using a leather thong wrapped around the shaft), discus throw (to ensure fairness, three official bronze discuses were kept at Olympia) and running/stadion (usually a sprint of one length of the stadium).
The pentathlon was taking place on the second day of the Games and all the five events were held in the course of one afternoon. It is debatable how exactly the winner was declared, but most likely the rule was as simple as the first man to win three out of the five events or otherwise a final wrestling match was held among the leaders.
The pentathlon required and developed very great elasticity and strength of all parts of the body and was for a reason considered to be the climax of the Olympics, with the winner ranked as “Victor Ludorum”.
There are no certain evidences when the word pentathlon was firstly used in the English language to refer to five elements competition, but the first time it was included in a dictionary was in The universal English dictionary of 1706 with a meaning of: “an Exercise consisting of five Games or Sports.”
The founder of the Modern Olympics, Barn Pierre de Coubertin shared admiration for the Ancient Pentathlon and was the first to cheer when the event was introduced back at the 5th Olympiad in Stockholm (SWE) 1912. The official Olympic Games Stockholm briefing from that year describes the new Olympic event comprising the contemporary sports of: “…. duel-pistol, shooting..swimming..fencing..riding..cross-country race.”
36 years later, Ernest Bland in his Olympic Story acknowledged the Swedish Olympic Committee decision to welcome the Modern Pentathlon : “In 1912..they [the Committee] sought a test which would produce the best all-round sportsman in the world… The contest known as the Modern Pentathlon was the result”
In its current format, the Modern Olympic Pentathlon comprises: fencing, 200 m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting, and a 3200 m cross-country run and just like in Ancient Greece it is held in a one-day-format to crown only the best athletes.