By Janet Newcomb

We all watch the televised summer and winter Olympics because we appreciate the athleticism and feel a bond with competing athletes from all over the world. We may have political and human rights complaints about their governments, but watching these elite competitors makes us forget politics and cheer for our favorite countries’ representatives.

The Modern Pentathlon competition is a lesser-known Olympic sport that includes five events: pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, and a cross-country run. Since 1949 an annual World Championship has been held in non-Olympic years, and winners in each of the 5 World Cup off-year competitions compete in the Olympic Pentathlon.

The modern pentathlon was invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games. The name comes from the Greek penta- “five” and -athlon “contest.” The addition of modern to the name distinguished it from the original pentathlon of the ancient Olympic Games, which consisted of a foot race, wrestling, long jump, javelin, and discus. Since the ancient pentathlon events were modeled after the skills of the ideal soldier of that era, Coubertin created the contest to simulate the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run.

Today’s Modern Pentathlon fencing competition uses the épée sword. The swimming discipline is freestyle and the riding discipline involves show jumping over a course with 12 to 15 obstacles. (Competitors are paired with unfamiliar horses in a draw 20 minutes before the start of the event, so it can be a tricky adventure.)

The new shooting discipline involves using a laser instead of a bullet, and the running discipline involves a 3K cross-country race. The running and shooting disciplines are now done in tandem.

There are five 2013 Pentathlon World Cups feeding competitors to the Olympics:

  • World Cup #1: Palm Springs, USA, February 20-24
  • World Cup #2: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 20-24
  • World Cup #3: Chengdu, China, April 17-21
  • World Cup #4: Budapest, Hungary, May 8-12
  • World Cup #5: Nizhnay-Novgorod, Russia, May 31- June 2

For Palm Springs to be World Cup #1 is a very special honor, and the organizers are looking for volunteers  and to keep the event running smoothly and sponsors to help underwrite this prestigious event. It will take place in Sunrise Park, and you can see all of the details (there are plenty of volunteer jobs) at the USAP World Cup #1 website at You can email for sponsor information, and email to volunteer.

USA Pentathlon is a non-profit 501[c]3 organization and the majority of the proceeds from the World Cup are used to support the athletes who compete in the annual World Cup series and, every four years, it supports them in their qualifying efforts on the road to the Olympic Games.