The History of the Ancient Pentathlon
The Pentathlon became a Olympic sport with the addition of wrestling in 708 BC and included the following:
Running contests included: the stadion or stade race which was the pre-eminent test of speed, covering the Olympia track from one end to the other (200 m foot race), the diavlos (two stades - 400m foot race), dolichos (ranging between 7 and 24 stades).
Jumping: Athletes used stone or lead weights called halteres to increase the distance of a jump. They held onto the weights until the end of their flight, and then jettisoned them backwards. A flute player, whose sounds underlined the rhythm and musical flow of properly executed jump, at times accompanied the athletes.
Discus throw (mentioned by Homer as one of the Games Achilles, held in honor of Patroclus). The Discus was originally made of stone and later of iron, lead or bronze. The technique was very similar to today's freestyle discus throw.
Javelin throw (also mentioned by Homer as one of the Games Achilles, held in honor of Patroclus).
Athletes attached a thong (leather strap) that formed a loop, at the centre of gravity of the javelin, to make the grip more secure and stabilize the javelin in flight.
There were two events that involved the javelin throw: one was for distance and the other for accuracy.
Wrestling was highly valued as a form of military exercise without weapons. It ended only when one of the contestants admitted defeat.
Boxing was added to the Games in 688 BC. It was mentioned by Homer and the god Apollo is considered to be its founder.
Boxers wrapped straps (himantes) around their hands to strengthen their wrists and steady their fingers. These straps were first soft but as time progressed, boxers started using hard leather straps, often causing the disfiguring of their opponent's face.
Pankration was added to the Games in 648 BC.
It was a primitive form of martial art combining wrestling and boxing, and was considered to be one of the toughest sports. Greeks believed that it was founded by Theseus when he defeated the fierce Minotaur in the labyrinth.
Equestrian Events included horse races and chariot races and took place in the Hippodrome, a wide, level, open space.
Poseidon, the patron deity of the equestrian competitions, is said to have sired the famous horse Areion with which Herakles defeated Kyknos, the son of Ares, in a horse race at Troizen.
According to mythology, the pentathlon was invented by Jason. He combined the five events, and awarded the prize to his friend Peleus (who had come in second in everything but wrestling, in which he placed first).
The Pentathlon represented the climax of the Games: the winner received the title of' 'Victor Ludorum' and had to proclaim a poem about his victory to the spectators.
Aristotle about ancient pentathlon (Aristotle, Rhetoric):
"Beauty varies with each age. In a young man, it consists in possessing a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength, while he himself is pleasant to look upon and a sheer delight. This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful, because they are naturally adapted for bodily exertion and for swiftness of foot. "
"For one who is able to throw his legs about in a certain way, to move them rapidly and with long strides, makes a good runner; one who can hug and grapple, a good wrestler; one who can thrust away by a blow of the fist, a good boxer; one who excels in boxing and wrestling is fit for the pancratium, he who excels in all for the pentathlon."
"The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."
Admiration for the ancient pentathlon was fully shared by the founder of the Modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and he expressed his support for the concept of pentathlon most eloquently and forcefully in his Memoires Olympiques published in 1931.
From 1909, he tried to have the event re-introduced into the Olympic program and after two failed attempts, Pentathlon's moment came at the 19th meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Budapest (HUN) when as the Baron stated:
"The Holy Ghost of sport illuminated my colleagues and they accepted a competition to which I attach great importance".
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