a man climbs up a rope
(Photo/Pavel1964, Shutterstock)

Olympic Pentathlon Shakeup: Obstacle Course Racing in, Equestrian Out

The ancient Greeks considered pentathlon a key indicator of overall athletic prowess. The modern addition of obstacle course racing honors that.

The sport of modern pentathlon covers five disciplines — one-touch épée fencing, cross-country running, pistol shooting, freestyle swimming, and equestrian show jumping.

But the sport’s governing body, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), has opted to drop the equestrian event and add obstacle course racing instead.

Why Change Modern Pentathlon?

“As times have changed, the Olympic program has evolved over the years to attract greater audiences around the world. The [UIPM] is undertaking an unprecedented review of every aspect of the sport. One of the outcomes of this effort is that the Riding portion of the event has proven no longer viable,” the UIPM announced on its website.

The move seems pragmatic, as there is a high cost and complexity of managing horses at events. But the UIPM also lists several other factors that prompted the decision. These include the growing popularity of obstacle course racing worldwide, the accessibility of the discipline as opposed to equestrian, and safer infrastructure for training, among others.

a horse and rider jump over hurdles in a pentathlon event
(Photo/Petr Toman, Shutterstock)

The New 5th Discipline Working Group — a committee within the UIPM — chose the new discipline based on 13 criteria. Some of these are excitement, ease of understanding for digital audiences, low cost for athletes and organizers, minimal injury rates, and low logistical complications.

But the first criterion on its list was “follow the Coubertin narrative of the most complete athlete.”

Will It Honor Olympic Intentions?

In ancient Grecian Olympic Games, pentathlon consisted of a foot race, wrestling, the long jump, and javelin and discus throws.

The Barron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games, and he included pentathlon. But he changed the disciplines to be reflective of the skills a 19th-century soldier would need if stuck behind enemy lines.

This resulted in the eclectic (to our eyes) combination of fencing, running, shooting, swimming, and riding.

The UIPM is currently testing two variations of obstacle course racing for final inclusion. Whichever they choose, it seems that swapping out a 19th-century-military-inspired discipline in favor of obstacle course racing is a good move. It honors Coubertin’s intentions and respects the general athletic nature of the original Greek event.

The updated modern pentathlon event will make its Olympic debut in Los Angeles at the 2028 games.

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Andrew Marshall
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Andrew Marshall is a writer, painter, and photographer with work in publications across the web. Andrew lives, runs, bikes, paddles, and skis in the Tahoe basin on the California/Nevada state line. He's one of the few unapologetic cat people in the outdoor industry. You can find him on Instagram (@andrewmarshallimages) or Twitter (@pawn_andrew).