Derived from a sport introduced to the ancient Olympics to appease the war-loving Spartans, the modern pentathlon requires competitors to perform in five disciplines in a single day. After firing an open-air pistol 20 times at 20 targets 10 m away, competitors must complete a bout of fencing, a 200-m freestyle swim, and a horse race over a 350-m to 450-m obstacle course.
Finally, the weary athletes attempt a 3,000-m run, in which they start according to a handicap scheme. The first to stagger over the finish line wins the gold medal. At Sydney, women will be knocking themselves out in the pentathlon for the first time.
European athletes-mainly from Sweden, Hungary and other former Soviet-bloc countries-have dominated the sport since its Olympic debut, winning all but four minor medals since 1912. The favorite is world champion Andrejus Zadneprovskis of Lithuania. His main challengers are likely to be Hungarians Gabor Balogh and Peter Sarfalvi, Estonia's Imre Tiidemann, the current World Cup champion, and France's Sebastien Deleigne.
Whoever becomes the first Olympic champion in the women's pentathlon will have beaten an excellent field. Among the favorites are Denmark's Pernille Svarre, who won this year's world championships at the age of 39, and the woman she dethroned, Belarus's Janna Dolgacheva-Shubenok. In the wake of Poland's surprise team victory at this year's world championships, veteran competitor Dorata Idzi will be another all-rounder to watch.
WHEN TO WATCH
- Men Sept. 30
- Women Oct. 1