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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March 2004, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Beginner's guide to modern pentathlon
Riding is one of the five modern pentathlon disciplines
Competitors have only 20 minutes to get used to a horse
The modern pentathlon is now an even stiffer challenge than it was when first introduced to the Olympics in 1912.

Designed as the ultimate test of endurance and athletic versatility, it consists of five events - shooting, fencing, swimming, showjumping and a 3,000m run.

But where it was once staged over four days, since Atlanta in 1996 the entire competition has been condensed into a gruelling 12-hour period.

Athletes earn points for each discipline, with their total after four events determining starting positions for the final one, the cross country run.

In a staggered start, the leaders go off in points order, with the first three past the finishing line taking gold, silver and bronze respectively.

In 1968 modern pentathlon produced the first positive Olympics drugs test when Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall was found to be over the blood-alcohol limit

There will be 32 men and 32 women competing for individual medals in Athens.

The rules for each discipline are as follows:

  • Shooting - Each competitor fires 20 shots with a 4.5 millimetre air pistol at a 15.5cm-diameter target from a range of 10 metres. They have 40 seconds for each shot.

    There are 10 rings on the target with a different points value. Shooters get just two-and-a-half minutes to practice before the competition begins.

    The number of points scored on the target is then translated into competition points with 172 target points (out of a maximum of 200) equal to 1,000 competition points.

    Each target point above or below that figure increases or decreases the athlete's score by 12.

  • Fencing - Pentathletes use an epee to fight each other in a round-robin format.

    The bouts last for one minute and the first fencer to land a hit wins. If neither lands a hit they both lose.

    If an athlete wins 70% of their bouts they score 1,000 competition points, any higher or lower percentage increases or decreases their points haul.

  • Swimming - A 200-metre freestyle race with points awarded according to times, not placings.

    Pentathletes are seeded into heats depending on their personal best times.

    A time of two minutes 30 seconds for men and two minutes 40 for women equals 1,000 competition points.

    Every three tenths of a second above or below that time decreases or increases the points total by four points.

  • Showjumping - Competitors are split into two groups according to the overall standings.

    They draw horses at random, so that the first and ninth-placed athletes ride the same horse, as do the second and 10th, and so on.

    They have 20 minutes to get used to the horse before the competition begins. The riders have to clear 12 obstacles on the course within a specific time limit.

    Each athlete begins with 1,200 competition points and loses points for penalties.

    Four points are lost for every second over the time limit, 28 points for knocking down a fence while jumping, 40 for falling off the horse and 40 if the horse refuses to jump a fence.

    If the horse or rider falls twice then the competitor is eliminated.

  • Running - The overall leader starts first with all the others starting behind in order of how far they are behind in the competition.

    The first to finish the 3,000m course takes gold, and so on.

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