[ pen-tath-luhn, -lon ]
/ pɛnˈtæθ lən, -lɒn /
Save This Word!

Definition of pentathlon

an athletic contest comprising five different track and field events and won by the contestant gaining the highest total score.
Should you take this quiz on “shall” versus “should”? It should prove to be a quick challenge!
Question 1 of 6
Which form is used to state an obligation or duty someone has?

Origin of pentathlon

1700–10; <Greek pénthāthlon, equivalent to pent- pent- + âthlon contest
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is the pentathlon?

A pentathlon is an athletic competition in which athletes compete in five different events. There are different versions of pentathlons involving different events.

The event known as the modern pentathlon (or sometimes the military pentathlon) is a multisport competition that includes épée fencing, a freestyle swim, equestrian jumping, and an event that combines a cross-country run with pistol target-shooting. The modern pentathlon is an event at the Summer Olympic Games.

There are also track-and-field competitions known as pentathlons that usually include long jump, high jump, shot put, a sprint with hurdles, and a longer race. (A similar competition with two additional events is called a heptathlon.)

The pentathlon dates back to the ancient Greek Olympic Games. The traditional pentathlon events include running, long jump, discus, javelin, and wrestling.

Events in pentathlons are usually spread out (unlike endurance competitions such as triathlons, in which the events happen directly after one another). In pentathlons, winning is based on a point system.

Athletes who participate in a pentathlon can be called pentathletes.

Example: Most athletes are specialists—devoting all of their training to a single sport—but competing in a pentathlon requires mastery of multiple sports.

Where does pentathlon come from?

Pentathlon comes from a combination of the prefix penta-, meaning “five,” and the Greek term âthlon, which means “prize” or “contest” and is also the basis of the words athlete and athletics (as well as the ten-event competition known as the decathlon, the seven-event heptathlon, and the three-event triathlon).

The term modern pentathlon is first recorded in the 1940s. The first records of the word pentathlon in English come from the early 1700s. But the pentathlon event dates back to the ancient Greek Olympic Games, when it featured five track-and-field events.

From 1912 to 1924, the Olympic Games held both a traditional pentathlon (then simply called the pentathlon) and a modern pentathlon. The traditional event was discontinued in 1924. In 1952, the modern pentathlon was changed to a team event in which different athletes competed in each event. In 1992, it was changed back to an individual event. In 2000, the women’s pentathlon event was added to the Olympics. In 2012, light-based laser pistols were introduced.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to pentathlon?

What are some synonyms for pentathlon?

What are some words that share a root or word element with pentathlon

What are some words that often get used in discussing pentathlon?

How is pentathlon used in real life?

The term modern pentathlon is often used to differentiate it from track-and-field versions or the ancient version, which included different events. Athletes who compete in the pentathlon are called pentathletes.

Try using pentathlon!

Which of the following events is not part of the modern pentathlon?

A. shooting
B. fencing
C. swimming
D. wrestling

How to use pentathlon in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pentathlon

/ (pɛnˈtæθlən) /

an athletic contest consisting of five different events, based on a competition in the ancient Greek OlympicsCompare decathlon

Derived forms of pentathlon

pentathlete, noun

Word Origin for pentathlon

C18: from Greek pentathlon, from penta- + athlon contest
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012