The Oldest Olympic Sports

18th July 2019
There are some Olympic sports that date back thousands of years. Can you imagine the ancient Greeks competing in the Olympics? Today, only our best athletes continue to compete in this highly anticipated international sporting event.

The Olympic games originated in Greece, more precisely in the city of Olympia, in honor of the god Zeus. Through different tests, male athletes tried to resemble this deity. Did you know that some ancient Olympic sports are still practiced today? In this article, we want to introduce some of those to you.

Ancient and modern Olympic sports

The ancient Olympic games had a rather religious character. However, the games also served to demonstrate the political and military power of the Greeks.

According to their beliefs, the winner of each edition (the first was named Corebo) was the man who most resembled Zeus in appearance and abilities. This was one of the reasons why women couldn’t participate (however, they had their own competition, the Heraean games, in honor of Hera).

Several sports events, combats, and races made up the Olympic games. Among these disciplines, we continue to compete in five events every four years in what’s currently the world’s most important sporting event.

1. Pentathlon

This consists of five tests: the 180-meter race (stadion), the fight, the long jump, the discus throw, and the javelin throw. Today, they’ve been replaced by fencing, swimming, equestrian jumping, target shooting and cross-country running.

The Greeks considered the athletes who competed in the old pentathlons to be superior to the rest of the participants. This is because they trained between each Olympic event (four years between each game) and were part of the Greek military service.

2. Javelin throw

As its name indicates, this sport required participants to throw a javelin—formed by a long stick and a sharp tip—as far as possible. Long-range hunters would compete in this game.

This Olympic sport had, at that time, a different technique, since it included the use of leather strips to propel the javelin, almost as if it were a bow.

3. Boxing

Boxing is a sport that was included in a triad of fighting sports along with pankration and wrestling. It was one of the most “popular” disciplines at the time since many Greeks practiced it, even when they weren’t participating in the Olympic Games.

Fighters trained by hitting sandbags and covered their hands, wrists, and forearms (but not their fingers) with leather straps.

4. The discus throw

This is another one of the Olympic sports that lives on today in modern games. This athletic test consists of throwing a heavy circular object (disk) with one hand.

In ancient times they didn’t regulate the weight of the disc, nor its size. Archeologists have found pieces of between one and four kilos with different diameters, much larger than the current ones.

5. Long jump, one of the traditional Olympic sports

The last of these ancient Olympic sports is known as the long jump, it’s a test of athleticism. Their goal is, after a running start, to jump as far as possible.

The long jump was included in the pentathlon and the athletes had to carry weights in their hands. For that reason, it was one of the most complicated tests of all the games.

Either way, the record holder is named as Chionis, who could jump more than seven meters. Today, athletes don’t even reach nine meters which is why we must recognize the Greeks for their skills.

In addition to these five Olympic sports, there are others that we still practice even today, although, with minor variations, ancient Greeks had equestrian events, many of which have resulted in modern competitions, such as equestrian jumping or training.

It’s worth noting that, until the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki, civilians weren’t allowed to participate in the games, since these were meant only for military officers. Our Olympic history is very rich and fascinating!

  • Drew, E. (2010). Olympics. The Antioch Review51(1), 38. https://doi.org/10.2307/4612658
  • The Modern Olympic Games. The Olympic Museum. https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/Documents/Document-Set-Teachers-The-Main-Olympic-Topics/The-Modern-Olympic-Games.pdf