How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes Part 3

About the ancient Greek athletes and how they stack up against to today's modern sports heroes, a look at the running and jumping competitions.



The first competitive athletic event held in the Olympian and other Greek games was the short footrace, or sprint, which was run a single length of the stadium, a distance of approximately 200 yd. This race was called, appropriately, the stade. For the first 13 Olympiads, this sprinting race was the sole athletic event staged in the stadium. In the year 724 B.C. the double stade, or diaulos, was added. This race, of approximately 400 yd., was made by performing a half-turn of 180 deg. around a post at the far end of the track. In 720 B. C. a long-distance race called the dolichos was added, thus making three footraces of varying lengths. The dolichos, it is said, could be any distance from 7 to 24 stades, that is, from about 8/10 mi. to 2 3/4 mi. The most likely distance at Olympia was 20 stades, or about 2.3 mi.

As to the Greek victors in foot-racing, the first winner at Olympia was Coroebus of Elis, who by occupation was a cook. The distance he ran was the stade, which at Olympia measured about 210 yd. However, since the Greeks had no means of timing races, there is no way of knowing how fast Coroebus ran. Runners at all distances were started on their way by a blast from a trumpet, which could be heard over the shouting of the spectators. A boy's race, one stade in length, was introduced at Olympia in 632 B.C. Judging the probable speed of the Greek sprinters by their size, it is unlikely that their best time over the stade (200 yd.) was less than 19.3 sec. This would have corresponded to 100 yd. in 9.6 sec., or 220 yd. in 21.2. These times are about 94% as fast as today's best.


One of the most interesting comparisons of ancient versus modern athletic capabilities is that which has repeatedly been made in connection with jumping, specifically the running broad jump. The reason for this is the claim of an astounding leap of no less than 55 ft. in this style, attributed to the jumper Phayllos of Crotona, who was said to have made the jump in one of the Pythian Games, at Delphi. One of the main sources of confusion in connection with this jump is that most authors have accepted the distance they have assumed that it must have been covered using two, or even three, adjoining jumps. However, when it was discovered that at Delphi the length of a "foot" was not 12 in., but only 6.99 in., the "55-foot" jump by Phayllos shrank to an even 32 ft.

While the latter distance is still several feet beyond that of the present-day record, it can be accounted for on the grounds that Greek jumpers customarily swung a pair of halteres (jumping weights) in their hands to add impetus and distance. By this means, anywhere from 5 to 7 ft. could be added to what would otherwise have been a broad jump of 25 ft. However, it is evident that the champion jumpers of the ancient games were highly skilled in their specialty, and quite possibly on a par with the best amateur jumpers of today. But when the best modern professional jumpers--who exhibited from about 1890 to 1910--are considered, it is doubtful whether any ancient jumper could equal the standing broad jump by John Darby of England of 12 ft. 6 in., or the same jump by R. P. Williams of the U. S., who used weights in the hands, of 15 ft. 4 in. (See "The All-around Wonder" in this chapter.)

You Are Here: Trivia-Library Home » How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes? » How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes Part 3
« How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes Part 2How Good Were the Ancient Greek Athletes Part 4 »
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ - By printing, downloading, or using you agree to our full terms. Review the full terms at the following URL: /disclaimer.htm