History of Military Pentathlon

In 1946, a French officer, Captain Henri Debrus (later promoted to Colonel and President of the CISM) conceived the idea of organising a sport competition reserved exclusively for the Army. His attention was drawn to a military physical training technique at that time practised by the Netherlands's Airborne Units. It consisted of parachute jumping, marching, crossing of obstacles and finally performing combat operations with small arms and grenades. Captain Debrus, taking the Dutch method as a guide, eliminated the parachute jump and modified the other tests so as to form a system which, he thought, would constitute an ideal way of completing ground training. A first competition organised by himself was held at the "Military Physical Training Centre" at Freiburg, in the French occupation zone in Germany, in August 1947 with the participation of Belgian, French and Dutch teams. The improved regulations, resulting from this trial, were approved by the French military authorities and the disciplines included in the competition were widely adopted throughout the French Forces under the name of Military Pentathlon.

Since then, the five disciplines of the Military Pentathlon have been :

  • Shooting with standard rifle (200 meters) - one precision and one rapid fire test
  • Obstacle run (500 meters) with 20 obstacles
  • Obstacle swimming (50 meters) with 4 obstacles
  • Throwing with standardised projectiles - one precision and one distance test
  • Cross-country (8 km for male competitors)

The International Military Sports Council (CISM) became interested in this project and set about creating a spirit of incentive in the different services by organising an annual international championship. After its modest start in 1950, when only three nations entered the competition, the international Military Pentathlon has developed into one of the most important military competitions in CISM and met each year with growing success.
The CISM World Championships has only been cancelled three times since 1950, mainly due to high political tension or war in the region, where the Championships were supposed to be organised. In 1988 the Scandinavian Nations tested for the first time rules for female competitors at their Nordic Championship. Since the CISM World Championship 1991 in Oslo, Norway, female competitors have been participating on a world level with only a few changes to the rules formerly applied to the men. The Military Pentathlon got a new momentum due to the membership of countries from the former Eastern block to the CISM, after the abolishment of the Warsaw Pact's sports association. This growing interest in Military Pentathlon led to the establishment of Continental Championships in Europe. The first took place in Munich, Germany, in 1992. In 1993 for the first time a new event of Military Pentathlon was tested on the occasion of the Second CISM European Championship in Wiener Neustadt, Austria - the Obstacle Relay. As from 1995 this discipline has been part of the CISM World Championship programme annually.

Military Pentathlon is an integral sports discipline of the CISM World Games, highlighted by the World Games organised in Rome 1995 and in Zagreb 1999. During the last decade Military Pentathlon has expanded remarkably. Each year a series of competitions are organised world-wide with main emphasis on Europe. The most important competitions are the World Championships, where the number of participating nations has increased from about 20 to more than 30. China and Brazil have dominated the men’s championships during the last decade. The most successful women teams come from China, Denmark and recently from P. R. Korea. However, Military Pentathlon is not only one of the most outstanding sports organised by the military but has relations to the civilian sports world too. In several countries, especially in the Nordic countries and in Central Europe civilian sports organisations have adopted Military Pentathlon and have been organising competition with civilian participation. Also in the framework of the NATO's Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) and the Association Europeenne des Sous-Officiers de Reserve (AESOR) competitions similar to Military Pentathlon are organised with different regulations and disciplines to some extent, however. In 1997 Military Pentathlon was invited to be a demonstration sport at the civilian World Games in Lahti, Finland.