Modern pentathlon is, honestly, a strange event. First of all, the 3200-meter run and pistol shooting events are combined into one, so it really features four events, not five. This begs the question -- why is it called modern pentathlon? Isn't it technically a quadrathlon? In addition to the combined running and shooting, the pentathlon consists of athletes competing in fencing, swimming and show jumping on unfamiliar horses assigned to the competitors by lottery. This last part makes things pretty interesting.
The pentathletes meet the horses they'll be guiding through a series of obstacles 20 minutes before they have to get the horse to actually cooperate and jump all of them without hitting and earning penalties. The results are -- well, they're exactly what you might expect.
In show jumping, the relationship between horse and rider is fundamentally important. The rider must have a feel for the horse's gait and tendencies, and that's pretty impossible to develop in a 20-minute span. The riders do receive notes from their horse's coach, with helpful information like "Forward going, sensible, experienced."
Team USA pentathlete and three-time Olympian Margaux Isaksen told NBC that she resorts to bribery to try to quickly establish camaraderie with her horse.
"I try to bribe my horses," Isaksen said. "Like, I'll bring small apples or cookies and I try to be really friendly and speak to them like they're people. It's a little bit crazy."
The modern pentathlon has evolved a great deal from its ancient counterpart, which featured running, jumping, spear throwing, discus and wrestling. The modern version is grueling across the board, with athletes completing in the 200m swim and fencing portions before they even get to start their 20 minutes of bonding with a random horse. The modern pentathlon culminates in the combined cross country run and pistol shooting event.