You're gearing up for your start in the 210-yard dash. The eyes of the crowd are upon you. But is it because it expects victory--or because you're wearing only the birthday suit the gods gave you? Some things have definitely changed since the Olympic Games started in 776 B.C., Tony Perrottet explains in the recently released book "The Naked Olympics." But other aspects of the ancient Games parallel modern sports.
There was corruption. In 388 B.C., Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three boxers to throw their fights against him. In A.D. 67, Roman Emperor Nero paid Olympic judges to let him win a chariot race, even though he fell out of his vehicle and didn't finish. There were also performance enhancers. Athletes swore before a statue of Zeus that they hadn't used foul play, but some resorted to black magic to edge out rivals. A curse tablet--found in Athens and aimed at Alkidimos, a runner--read, "Do not let him get past the starting lines."
The most popular event? The pankration, a battle in which it was OK to break an opponent's bones or strangle him. Still, the ancient Games weren't uncivilized. There were Homer-reading contests, beauty pageants and feasts (prostitution, too). With all the action, it's obvious why fans traveled the 210 miles from Athens to Olympia to watch. Says Perrottet, "The Greeks thought it was a small part to play [to be] as close to the gods as they could."