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Rules of the Game: Modern Pentathlon

The concept of the Modern Pentathlon dates back to a 19th century story about a French cavalry officer who had to deliver a message on horseback.

The modern pentathlon doesn't get a lot of fanfare from casual Olympics fans, but it is among the most unique events as it combines five disciplines one would not consider to be related: Fencing, swimming, horse riding, shooting and running. And all of it taking place in one day.

It starts with fencing and the ranking round. There is a round-robin of one-minute matches using the epée. Those athletes who are the most successful get the highest scores. With the one-minute time limit, competitors have little time to learn their opponent's tendencies. If neither competitor scores in their match, they are both registered as having been defeated.

Next comes a 200-meter freestyle swim, with points awarded based on finishing times.

Then it's back to fencing for the bonus round. This time, it's an elimination format with the start list determined by the results of the ranking round. Each bout lasts 30 seconds.

Then it's time to go outside for the equestrian leg. The competitor takes the horse through a jumping course over several obstacles. Unlike other Olympics equestrian events in which the horse and rider may have been training together for years, the modern pentathlon competitor is introduced to their horse for the first time just 20 minutes before the ride.

The scores from fencing, swimming and riding are combined to set up the start list for the final event: The Laser-Run. Whoever has the highest score gets to go first, with one point equaling a one-second advantage. The competitors must shoot at five targets with a laser pistol from a distance of 10 meters, and they have to do that within 50 seconds. Then they run 800 meters. Then they have to stop and do it all over again, completing that shooting-running sequence four times.

Whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner of the modern pentathlon.

Who came up with this unique event? According to the Tokyo Olympics website, there's a 19th century story about a French cavalry officer who had to deliver a message on horseback. In order to complete the mission, he had to fight with a sword, swim, ride, shoot and run.