Athlete of Taranto (04:00)
The tomb of an ancient Olympian was discovered in Italy during the mid-20th century. Little was known about the games in which early Olympians competed or how they might have compared to athletes of today.
Reconstructing the Athlete (05:37)
Experts including forensic scientist Gaspare Baggieri examined the Athlete of Taranto’s skeleton, determining he was in excellent shape and enjoyed a diet rich in high-protein foods. Experts in medical reconstruction approximated the athlete’s appearance.
Panathenaic Games (05:41)
Pottery found inside the tomb revealed the Athlete of Taranto to be a winner at the games. Winners received a Panathenaic amphora. The athlete likely competed in the pentathlon.
The Greek city of Olympia was not only a center of sport, but also culture, politics and religion. Women were forbidden under penalty of death. Tens of thousands of Greeks converged on the games held every fourth summer.
Ancient Pentathlon (07:17)
Baggieri examined the Athlete of Taranto’s skeleton to determine his prowess at discus throwing and the javelin toss, two of five events in the ancient pentathlon. Biomechanics expert Matt Payne estimated the athlete’s ability at the long jump.
Ancient vs. Modern Athlete (04:53)
Spectators gathered at the foot of Mount Kronos to watch the pentathlon; local priests acted as judges. Experts studied the Athlete of Taranto’s skeleton, looking for clues regarding how well he performed in the games.
Combat Sports (04:48)
The ancient Olympics included three violent contact sports; the pankration was the most brutal. Sostratus of Sicyon became famous for his finger-breaking techniques in this event. The Athlete of Taranto would have wrestled.
The Greeks used their own form of starting blocks for the 200-meter sprint and a gate with a tripwire to prevent false starts. Cheaters were not only disqualified, they were beaten and publicly humiliated. Winners received a white, woolen band.
Premature Death (02:16)
The Athlete of Taranto was a champion, but his success came at a great cost. Baggieri found signs of premature degeneration in the athlete’s shoulder joint. The athlete also appears to have died at a young age.
Brutal Chariot Races (07:00)
Chariot racing was an extremely dangerous sport. Two turning posts were utilized to mark the course with no central barrier to prevent head-on collision and no protection for spectators. The athlete likely participated in races as an owner, not a driver.
Credits: First Olympian (00:50)
Credits: First Olympian
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