Track and field athletics are amongst the most ancient and popular of Olympic sports. The most well-known example of early organized athletic competitions date from the 8th or 9th century BC, when the ancient Greeks held the first Olympics.
A Brief History Of Ancient Sports
The ancient games combined a religious festival with competitive athletics. Indeed, the aesthetic form of the human body was used as a medium of worship. Athletics in Greece could be grueling. Corporeal punishment was even given out to athletes who made a false start on the track!
Whether you are applying for a track and field scholarship, trying to get to the bottom of a particular rule, or simply want to know more as a fan of sports, getting familiar with the origins of athletic disciplines is crucial. Here is a very brief introduction to the genesis of some of the most popular athletic events.
Running is almost certainly older than the Greek Olympics. The ancient Egyptians organized foot races for various ceremonial reasons at least 5000 years ago.
Perhaps the most bizarre of the ancient Egyptian footraces was the Heb Sed. This was a ceremonial one-man race. Only the pharaoh was permitted to take part—largely to show that he was superior to his underlings and fit to run the empire. Of course, the pharaoh was the winner every time.
Several running races were part of Greek Olympic celebrations, including the hoplitodromos, in which the competitors had to wear heavy suits of amour whilst they ran.
Homer included descriptions of the discus in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, the epic poems that form such important parts of our understanding of Greek culture.
The discus throw has its roots even deeper in ancient Greek ceremony and myth. In one traditional story, the character Lepreus challenges the demi-god Heracles to a series of challenges. The challenges included a discus throw, which Heracles won with his strength inherited from Zeus. The pair also competed to see who could eat the most. Unfortunately, this particular sport has not been taken up as a modern Olympic discipline.
The Long Jump
The long jump as we know it also has its roots in the ancient Greek Olympics. In its original form, competitors carried two weights, which were used to shift momentum during the moment of take-off.
What you might not know is that from 1900 to 1912, the standing long jump was considered an equal to the running jump. Whilst not quite as elegant as the sport we partake in today, standing jumpers developed some amazing records.
The Hammer Throw
You might be surprised to learn that the hammer throw does not originate in ancient Greece. Instead, it has its origins in similar athletic disciplines that were competed in during the Tailteann games of ancient Ireland.
In 16th-century England, competitions were held in which actual blacksmiths hammers were thrown. This is likely to be the original use of the word “hammer” to describe events where athletes threw handled, weighted objects.