Olympics: They Used to Compete in the NudeRoundup: Media's Take
Ann Beveridge, in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) (Aug. 16, 2004):
If the modern Olympic Games ran true to the strict customs of ancient Greece they might well today have been called the "Naked Games". From the early 8th century BC, Olympic athletes competed in the nude.
There are indisputable records going back to Athenian philosopher Plato in the 5th century BC and even Homer's Iliad, as well as many explicit drawings that confirm it was common practice for all male track and field athletes to take part naked. This included the often dangerous sports of discus throwing, wrestling, boxing and horse racing without protective clothing. The only exception seems to have been for charioteers, who wore long white tunics.
The words gymnastics and gymnasium are based on the Greek adjective gymnos, which means lightly-clad or naked. The only adornment on the athletes' bronzed, muscular torsos would have been the gleam of olive oil with which they ritually anointed themselves.
According to Dionysius, of Halicarnassus, a writer in the 1st century BC, Greek athletes did not compete in the nude until the 15th Olympiad in 720BC, more than 2700 years ago. That was more than half a century after the birth of the first Olympic Games, which originated in Olympia, southern Greece, in 776BC.
A Spartan runner named Acanthus was said to have set the fashion by appearing without the customary loincloth.
Two hundred years later the origin of this practice of nudity was attributed to another sprinter, Osippus, who won the one-stade footrace (about 180m) at the Olympics of 720BC.
It was said he realised that a naked man could run faster than one impeded by a loincloth.
In the 7th century AD, more than 1300 years later, writer Isidore of Seville suggested that during a race in Athens, one of the runners had the bad luck to trip over his own loincloth when it slipped down. A magistrate in charge of the games ordered a new ruling that athletes should compete in the nude.
The historian Thucydides, who lived at the end of the 5th century BC, wrote
that it was the "Spartans who were the first to play games naked, to take
off their clothes openly and to rub themselves down with olive oil after their
exercise. In ancient times even at the Olympic Games the athletes used to wear
coverings for their loins and indeed this practice was still in existence not
very many years ago"....
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