Chloe Esposito in action at Rio 2016

Chloe Esposito in action at Rio 2016. Credit: Twitter/World Pentathlon

The Modern Pentathlon is a unique Olympic event, drawing on ancient and modern inspiration. After gold at Rio 2016, Australia has big dreams.

The Modern Pentathlon has two events at Tokyo 2020. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Not so modern origins

The Modern Pentathlon is a five discipline event, that bears its history from the ancient Olympics of ancient Greece. The competition was designed by the early Olympic presidents, as a callback to that history.

The five disciplines are supposedly the ideal characteristics of an Ancient Greek soldier, or in the modern reincarnation, the ideal soldier at the start of the 20th century. An unusual mix of sports, the competition requires true all-around skills and consistency.

The Modern Pentathlon first appeared at Stockholm 1912. Women participated for the first time in 2000.

A tournament in five parts

At Tokyo 2020, 36 athletes will compete across the five disciplines in each the men’s and women’s competitions.

The five disciplines are fencing (Épeé), swimming (200m freestyle race), equestrian (show-jumping), shooting (laser pistol) and running.

The shooting and running are done together, where athletes successfully shoot a target 5 times, run 800m, and repeat until they have done each four times.

The Fencing is done in a round-robin event, with a single touch being required for a win. Competitors are seeded based on those results, and then a ladder ‘bonus round’ is completed. Winning 25 bouts scores 250 points. Each victory more than that gives an extra six points, and each extra loss deducts six points.

The lowest-ranked competitors will face-off, and the winner plays the next lowest-ranked competitor until all have played the bonus round. Each win in the bonus round results in an extra point, but no points are deducted for losses.

Swimming is a 200m freestyle race, with rankings and points awarded based on the time taken to complete the race. A time of 2:30 for the 200m freestyle will score 250 points. Every 0.33 of a second above or below is an extra or fewer point.

The Equestrian is a show-jumping competition. Competitors are paired with an unfamiliar horse 15 minutes before the event and then must ride the 350m course with 12 obstacles.

Completing the course in the time limit results in 300 points, with penalties for fallen bars, being over the time limit, refusals and falls.

The Laser-Run is a combined event, similar to a biathlon. Competitors shoot at five targets and can start to run after either hitting the target five times or after 70 seconds of attempts.

The combined event is a handicap, with the athlete with the most points leading into the event starting, and every extra point results in an extra second handicap. The first athlete across the line wins the competition. A time of 13:20 for the combined event scores 500 points. Every second above or below is an extra or fewer point to the score.

Last Time Around

At Rio 2016, Australia sent siblings Max and Chloe Esposito to compete for the men’s and the women’s. Chloe won gold, with an Olympic record score of 1372. It was one of the most hotly-contested events ever, with Olympic records for the swim (Russia’s Gulnaz Gubaydullina), run, combined running and shooting (both Lithuania’s Laura Asadauskaite), and both a single shooting session and total shooting sessions (both Hungary’s Zsofia Foldhazi).

Chloe Esposito finished seventh in the swim and secured her win with a second place in the combined running and shooting, to seal victory. Esposito took 2020 off for the birth of her first child Ted but has not given up the dream of returning for Paris 2024.


Max would finish seventh in the men’s event, with Alexander Lesun (RUS) taking gold with an Olympic record score of 1479. Pavlo Tymoshchenko (UKR) and Ismael Hernandez (MEX) completed the podium.

Aussies at Tokyo 2020

Marina Carrier will compete in the women’s event at Tokyo 2020. At just 23 years of age, she is at her first Olympics. In 2016, Carrier was the second-ranked Oceania athlete, behind Esposito, and was considered unlucky not to be going to Rio 2016.

From 2017-2020, Carrier was the Australian Champion, and in 2019, she made two senior World cup finals, and competed strongly, including winning medals at the Polish Open. Carrier finished second at the 2020 Oceania Championships to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

Edward Fernon competed in the modern pentathlon aged just 21 at London 2012. Going into London, Fernon was ranked 111th in the world and finished 27th after a blistering run leg.

Ed Fernon competes in the riding during the Men's Modern Pentathlon at London 2012.
Ed Fernon competes in the riding during the Men’s Modern Pentathlon at London 2012. Credit: Australian Olympic Committee

At that time, Fernon was coached by 1984 Olympian Daniel Esposito (father of Max and Chloe) and competed until his retirement in 2015. After filling the void left from the competition by engaging in super-endurance events, like climbing Mt Aconcagua in Argentina and winning the Mongol Derby (a 1000km horse race across Mongolia using 28 horses), and setting a new record in the process.

In August 2019, Fernon decided to return to competition and after just three months training, he qualified for Tokyo 2020 in November 2019.

Favourites for Tokyo 2020

Alexander Lesun (ROC) is hoping to repeat his Rio 2016 heroics, competing under the auspices of the Russian Olympic Committee. Joe Choong (GBR) finished with silver at the 2019 World Championships and has declared his ambitions of winning gold.

Valentin Belaud (FRA) won the 2019 World Championship and will be hoping to repeat that success at Tokyo 2020, and the same applies to his partner, Elodie Clouvel (FRA). Clouvel finished with silver in Rio 2016 and is hoping to go one better at Tokyo 2020.

Asadauskaite (LTU) will be hoping to build on her shooting performance at Rio 2016 and Gubaydullina (ROC) will be hoping to do the same with the swim record as they come around for Tokyo 2020.

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Last chance like this

On 12 June 2021, the IOC announced that the format of the Modern Pentathlon would change from Paris 2024, where all disciplines will be completed within 90 minutes. It will be completed in a single arena, with an elimination format as fewer athletes compete in each discipline over the course of the event.

The fencing competition for both men’s and women’s modern pentathlon will be on 5 August. The balance of the women’s competition will be on 6 August, and the men’s competition on 7 August.

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