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THE NAKED OLYMPICS by Tony Perrottet


The True Story of the Ancient Games


Pub Date: June 15th, 2004
ISBN: 0-8129-6991-X
Publisher: Random House

A trip back 2,500 years to the original Olympic Games: though lacking sponsorship from mighty auto manufacturers, they still reveal many congruencies with current Olympic practices.

The rowdy road from the city-states of antiquity to Olympia for its quadrennial sporting competitions was traveled at least 293 times over 1,200 years. Spectacular showbiz at its nascent best, the games were well organized and profitable. The Olympic field of dreams was carefully prepared. Even when war raged on the peninsula, all belligerents observed a general military truce in Olympia. Spectators came in vast numbers. It was classical-age Woodstock, with ongoing amusements. Boozing and prostitution were open and notorious, junk food was hawked, and a great time was had at the traditional summer games. The five-day program began with opening ceremonies and hack literary declamations followed by the chariot race and the pentathlon (discus and javelin throw, long jump, running and wrestling). Then came foot races, more wrestling, boxing, free-for-all fighting, and, just for laughs, running in full body armor before the closing ceremonies and final hangovers. Contestants were customarily clad in nothing but olive oil, thus ensuring that no women snuck in to compete. Judges, expected to be above reproach, were sometimes reproached. The Olympia emergency room ministered to contestants full time, while coaches trained their compliant athletes with special exercises and fad diets. Some old traditions are recent inventions: there was no marathon back then, and the Olympic torch relay, we find, was created by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin games. Travel-writer Perrottet’s (Route 66 A.D., 2002, etc.) account of the ancient competition, using sources from Pindar and Plato to Herodotus and Homer, as well as other ur-sportswriters, makes lively and entertaining reading.

A timely re-creation and recreation: wonderful history for sports fans, great sportswriting for classicists, and fun for all. (30 illustrations, not seen)