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Ancient Olympics Events

Ancient Summer Games: The Greeks were the first to start the Summer Games in 776 BC (some 3000 years ago) in the plain of Olympia in Peloponnese. The ancient Summer Games grew and continued to be played every four years for nearly 1200 years. In 393 AD, the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I abolished the Games because of their pagan influences. The ancient Olympics were different from the todays modern Games. The Summer Games originally contained one event: the stadion race, a short sprint measuring between 180 and 240 meters. Over the years, more events were added: boxing, wrestling, chariot racing, pentathlon, wrestling, long jump, javelin throw and discus throw among others. Only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to compete, instead of athletes from any country.

Ancient Olympians : Some of the famous ancient Olympians were Acanthus of Sparta, Chionis of Sparta, Cynisca of Sparta, Leonidas of Rhodes, Leonidas of Rhodes among others. Acanthus was the winner of two footrace events, called the Diaulos and the Dolichos, in 720 BC. Cynisca became the first woman in history to win at ancient Summer Games. Orsippus of Megara was the first runner who ran naked at the Summer Games and won the event.

Ancient Summer Games - Major Events: At first, the only event held in the Summer Games was a 200 yard foot race called stade. Later on other events like boxing, pentathlon, pancration and chariot racing were included in the program of the Olympics. There were also different types of running events - 1 stade race, 2 stade race and another race of 7-24 stades.

The ancient Olympic race track were:

•  1 stade race (192 meters 200 yards)

•  2 stade race (384 meters or 400 yards)

•  Other races of 7-24 stades (1344-4608 meters or 1400-4800 yards )

The events included in the schedule of the Ancient Summer Games were:

•  Running

•  Wrestling

•  Boxing

•  Equestrian events (Chariot Racing, Riding)

•  Pancration

•  Pentathlon (Discus, Javelin, Jump, Running, Wrestling)

Running in the Ancient Summer Games - The Foot-race or stadion was the oldest contest held in the ancient Summer Games. It was the only event in the ancient Olympics until the 13th Olympiad. The athletes had to run nude for a distance of 200 yard or 192 meters. This was known as 1 stade. The other races were 2 stade race (384 meter or 400 yard) and another race of 7-24 stades(1344-4608 meters or 1400-4800 yards). Apart from all these three races, there was also a 2 to 4-stade (384 meters to 768 meters) race by athletes in armor. These armors weighed about 50-60 lbs, which was pretty heavy. This race was especially useful in building the strength, speed and stamina that Greek men needed during military training. Running was also included in the pentathlon.

Ancient Olympic Wrestling : Homer has mentioned about wrestling for the first time in his Labours for Patroclos. Wrestling was one of the pentathlon events. It was also an independent event in the Pan-Hellenic games. In wrestling, an athlete needed to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall. Three throws were necessary to win a match.

Ancient Olympic Boxing : Boxing was one of the oldest events in the ancient Summer Games. Picture of two children boxing can be seen on the mural from Acrotiri in Thera. Reference to the event can be traced back as early as Homer. Boxing was included in the schedule of the 23rd Olympiad in 688 BC. In boxing, competitors wore leather straps to protect their hands. The combat went on until one gave in or could not go on. The gloves were used to protect the hands of the boxer. Boxing became increasingly brutal over the centuries. Instead of soft leather gloves, ancient boxers wrapped leather thongs, known as himantes, around their hands and wrists which left their fingers free.

Equestrian Events in the Ancient Summer Games : In the ancient Summer Games, the equestrian events consisted of chariot races and riding. Only wealthy people could afford to pay for the training, equipment, food of\ the driver, the jockey and the horses. As a result, the owner of the horses received the olive wreath of victory instead of the driver or jockey. The only way women could participate in the Summer Games was by entering horses in the equestrian events. Cynisca, a Spartan princess won the four-horse race in 396 BC and in 392 BC.

•  Chariot Races : The chariot races became part of the Summer Games in 680 BC. The hippodrome was the place where the chariot races were held. In the ancient Olympics there were 4-horse chariot race and 2-horse chariot race. The course was 12 laps around the stadium track with the length of 9 miles. A four horse chariot race was called a quadriga race. This was the most spectacular event at the Olympics. This was an aristocratic event used to compete for status by wealthy patrons.

•  Riding : The course was 6 laps around the track with the length of 4.5 miles. There were separate races for full-grown horses and foals. Jockeys rode without stirrups.

Pancration in the Ancient Summer Games : Pancration was a combination of boxing and wrestling. Punches were allowed, although the fighters did not wrap their hands with the boxing himantes. Like boxing and wrestling this event had separate divisions for both men and boys. Philostratos praised pancration as the best and the most worthy event for men in the Summer Games.

Pentathlon in the Ancient Summer Games : Pentathlon was a combination of heavy and light events which included jumping, running, javelin, discus and wrestling. In the pentathlon, the athlete had to combine many qualities and skills of the body. For this reason it was a very important event in the ancient Summer Games. In the Summer Games, running and wrestling were conducted separately. The other three events- discus, javelin and jump, were independent.

•  Discus : Ancient Olympic Discus was an event known from Homeric poems. It was one of the favorite games among Greeks. The discus was made of stone, iron, bronze, or lead. It was shaped like a flying saucer. Sizes of the discus varied for the boys' division and the men's division. Discus used in men's division was much heavier than the discus used in boys' division.

•  Javelin : Javelin throwing was a favorite event in the ancient Summer Games. The javelin was a piece of wood of man's length with either a sharpened end or an attached metal point. There were two categories in javelin throwing event -" ekebolon", in which the distance covered by the javelin was measured and " stochastikon", in which the javelin was thrown at a specific target.

•  Jump : Jumping was similar to the long jump. The athlete jumped into a pit holding halters in his hands. Halters were the jump weights made of lead or stone. These were used to increase the length of jump made by the athletes.