How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes Part 2

About the ancient Greek athletes and how they stack up against to today's modern sports heroes, how the events were staged.



To start with wrestling (although it probably came last in the five-event series), in the Greek games tow main styles were recognized. In the first style, called "upright wrestling," the object was simply to throw one's opponent off his feet--that is, to a fall on the ground. In this style, three falls were necessary to decide the winner. If any part of the body above the knees touched the ground, it was counted a fall. However, if both wrestlers fell together, the fall did not count. Evidently this was the style of wrestling in which Milo of Crotona in his prime proved invincible. Milo's record of wins in wrestling was without a parallel. He was the champion in six Olympian, seven Pythian, nine Nemean, and ten Isthmian games--a period of strenuous competition covering some 24 years (540-516 B.C.) Although some writers have stated that in Milo's day wrestling was "to the death," this is not true, and would have been at total variance with the spirit of the games.

In the second form of wrestling, called "ground wrestling," the grappling went on after both wrestlers had taken to the ground, which incidentally had been watered until it was muddy and slippery. Ground wrestling was not recognized as a separate competition of the games, as was upright wrestling, but comprised, instead, a part of the grueling combat known as the pancratium, which combined boxing (bare-handed), wrestling, kicking, strangling, and just about everything else with the exception of biting or gouging, although even these tactics were resorted to if a combatant thought he could get away with them.

In both boxing and wrestling, the capabilities of victors in the early Greek games cannot be fairly compared with those of present-day champions, because of radical differences in their respective styles. More valid comparisons may perhaps be made in other of the events practiced then and now, such as running, jumping, and throwing the discus. However, even in a comparison of these measurable field events difficulties appear, as will now be seen.

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