Previously held over four to five days, modern pentathlon’s current one-day format has resulted in a more exciting spectator spectacle. At the Beijing 2008 Games, it was a sell-out event contested by 36 men and 36 women.
Pentathletes achieve performance-related points in each discipline. The first event is a round-robin fencing competition, with a single touch deciding each match, which is followed by a swimming event of 200m freestyle. Equestrian is the third event, and comes in the form of a 12-obstacle show-jumping contest. The athlete has a specific time limit in which to complete the course. The last element of a pentathlon competition is the combined event. Athletes start with a handicap start, then an approx. 20m run to a shooting range, where they are required to hit 5 targets, before beginning a 1000m run. This is repeated two further times for a total of 15 targets and a 3000m run.
More than anything, the introduction of a handicap start to the combined event helped to really engage and excite spectators. Competitors set off at intervals which correspond in seconds to the overall points difference between themselves and the athlete preceding them. By structuring it this way, the athlete who crosses the finish line first wins the gold medal.