Olympics 2008: Why Pentathletes Are the Most Beautiful

Text by Kelly Ruane

With the Olympics starting up today (watch the opening ceremonies tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBC), no doubt most of us are eagerly awaiting the primetime crowd pleasers—gymnastics, swimming, running, beach volleyball. But this year, it’s possible to follow any number of more obscure sports, as well, on NBCOlympics.com. The newly launched site allows users to stream events on their computers, including many that don’t score much of the limelight, like the modern pentathlon. And if there’s one event that Olympics fans likely haven’t heard of but should, this is it.

The pentathlon is a rigorous daylong event deemed a “true Olympic sport” by the International Olympic Committee. First introduced to the games in 1912, it hails from the archaic period of Ancient Greece, when muscle-bound warriors would compete in five events—running, jumping, spear throwing, discus, and wrestling. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, once said the Pentathlon “tested a man’s moral qualities as much as his physical resources and skills, producing thereby the ideal complete athlete.”

Back in 708 B.C. when the event was introduced to the Ancient Games in Olympia (and around the same time the Chinese were inventing gunpowder), the champion of the pentathlon was declared victor ludorum, Latin for “winner of the games.” The event was considered the climax of the games, and Aristotle claimed that “a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength . . . this is why the athletes in the Pentathlon are most beautiful.”

In today’s games, the event includes shooting, fencing, swimming, horseback riding, and running. To see who will compete for the U.S. go to pentathlon.teamusa.org and watch the event on August 21 and 22.

To keep track of who’s in the lead check out the easy-to-read medal count at http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/beijing/medals.

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