Ancient Olympic Fun Fact 15

2012 is significant in that it is a presidential election year, a leap year, and a summer Olympic year! The modern Olympics, of course, were inspired by the ancient Greek Olympics, a subject I’ve been researching for my work in progress. So in these months leading up to the 2012 London Games, I’ll be posting weekly tidbits about the original athletic festival that started it all.

Here’s this week’s fun fact:

A month of compulsory training took place the month before the Games.

Just as modern athletes undergo a qualifying process to enter the Olympics, the ancient Games had their own sort of preliminaries. This took place in Elis, the city-state that organized the Games (Olympia lay in Elean territory). Having the athletes gather in advance allowed officials time to weed out weak candidates and verify eligibility. In addition, there was a psychological aspect to bringing in the athletes early.

The Olympic Judges supervised the training, and they used to opportunity to reinforce their absolute control over the Games. Sessions were grueling, and athletes had to obey the Judges’ every word and eat only what they provided. And although trainers and relatives might accompany competitors to Elis, they could in no way interfere with the proceedings.

A consequence of this month-long boot camp was that it limited the pool of individuals who could enter. For most citizens, taking an entire month off wasn’t affordable (and by the way, that didn’t include travel time or the actual Olympic festival itself). So unless you were a person of means or had sponsors, clearing this first hurdle to the Games was difficult.

Tune in next week for more about the ancient Olympics!

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