The program consisted of an individual and team event for men, scored by a series of scoring tables for each of the phases. For the first time since 1932, the order of the phases changed slightly. The first two faces were riding and fencing, as they had been for 52 years. But swimming was the third phase in 1984. Further, the competition was held over four days, with shooting taking place the morning of the fourth day, and running in the afternoon. This was done, ostensibly, to prevent pentathletes from taking any drugs that might slow their heart rate for the shooting. If the running followed shooting, such a drug would hamper their running abilities. This was the only time in Olympic history that this format was used.
The second change in the rules concerned the start of the cross-country running. Formerly all runners started together and were given points according to the times they recorded as they crossed the finish line. Beginning in 1984, the runners started the run in the order of their placement after four phases. Thus the leader started first, followed by the second-place athlete, then the third-place athlete, etc. The runners started with margins of one second for every three points they trailed the leader. Thus the finish in the run would determine the actual winners of the modern pentathlon. The change was designed to bring more drama to the final event.