Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: How Olympia Beat the Cheats

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: How Olympia Beat the Cheats

Article excerpt

What to do about today's Olympic drug cheats? Since ancient Greeks did not do chemistry, drugs were not a problem. They could, however, be banned from competing on many other grounds. The system worked as follows.

The one-week games, always staged at Olympia, were overseen by a panel of judges from the nearby town of Elis (36 miles away), and it was these judges who determined the eligibility or otherwise of any competitor. Their key requirement was that every contestant turn up at Elis a month before the games began. Here the athletes completed their final training in the facilities provided for the events (various categories of running, jumping, throwing, fighting and riding), under the eye of Elean trainers and judges. During this month, the judges checked that the athletes were worthy to compete in these most prestigious games in honour of Zeus, god of Olympus.

First, they had to prove their physical fitness. Eddie the Eagles were not welcome, and if shame at losing did not deter them, judges would try to persuade them to scratch. …

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