Behind the modern pentathlon lies a real military purpose, which explains why it has so long been dominated by military men. The pentathlon is actually a test of five skills that a mounted courier might need to deliver a message under historical battle conditions: first, riding a strange horse over a 5,000-meter obstacle course; second, fencing each opponent; third, shooting at a bobbing silhouette target; fourth, swimming 300 meters. Finally, each man runs 4,000 meters across country on an unfamiliar but blazed course.
Points are awarded each man on the basis of how his performance compares to an established standard. There is an individual and a three-man-team award.
No one individual or national team can be absolutely tops in each event, but the winner must be far superior in at least three of the five events.
Hungary, with her traditional superiority in fencing, riding and shooting, has been the leading pentathlon nation for years, but Hungary's chances are now gravely in doubt, for two of her best men, Gabor Benedek and Istvàn Hegadus, were killed in the recent Budapest riots.
Sweden, with Gold Medalist Lars Hall, is Hungary's leading challenger—provided the Swedish team now on scene votes to compete. The U.S., Russia and Finland will probably scramble for the third spot. Russia was only a keen observer at the '52 Olympics, but since then Russian pentathlon men have made a fast climb in international competition. The best of the Russians, Konstanti Saluyjov, should rank high, though he is the robust sort who generally gives away points in the cross-country run. Finland will have two excellent men, Olavi Mannonen and Vaino Korhonen, in the field at Melbourne.
The U.S. has "the best team ever assembled and the boys have their backs up," as Coach Nicholas Toth put it optimistically before emplaning for Melbourne. The U.S. has in Robert Miller and William Andre two good fencers, and good team strength in the equestrian test. By the rules of the Olympic competition, the horses for the pentathlon event, however, are drawn by lot, and the U.S. chances will be riding-somewhat on the luck of the draw. Strange horses in the fervor of an international pentathlon competition have often ruined good scores for their riders in the past. As Colonel L. F. Hood, who trained the American riders, points out philosophically, "Horses are like women; some you like better than others and some like you better than others."