What Were the Original Ancient Olympic Sports?


The ancient Olympics were different compared to the modern Games we have today. It’s because during those times, there were fewer events or sports played, and only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to compete, unlike in the present time where athletes from any country can join.

The Ancient Olympic Games were held every four years only in Olympia instead of moving around in different sites every time. It was in honor of Zeus, the supreme god of Greek religion. In ancient Greece, the Games were the most important cultural event. In fact, they were even used as a basis for the calendar. They were held from 776 BCE to 393 CE.

Initially, the ancient Olympic Games were a one-day event but in 684 BC, they were extended to three days. Then, in the 5th century BC, they were extended again to cover five days. If you are wondering what sports they played back in those times, here are the original ancient Olympic sports.


In the ancient Olympics, the running events were called stadion or stade. It was considered as the oldest event of the Games. The runners sprinted for 1 stade, which is the length of the stadium. Other races involved 2 stades, and a long-distance sprint that ranged from 7 to 24 stades.

They also had a 2 to 4-stade race where athletes wearing armor sprinted. It was useful in building stamina and speed which were needed by the Greek men during their military service. Imagine running fast while wearing an armor that weighed about 50 to 60 pounds.


Compared to the modern boxing we have today, in the ancient Olympics, this sport had fewer rules. Boxers in the ancient times fought without rounds until one man was either knocked out or admitted he had been beaten. There was also no rule against hitting an opponent when he was down.

Boxing in the ancient Olympics did not have any weight classes within the men’s and boys’ divisions. This means that opponents for a match were chosen randomly and one person could win the entire division.

Also, instead of wearing boxing gloves, the ancient boxers wrapped leather thongs or himantes around their hand and rings leaving their fingers free.


Wrestling in the ancient Olympics had the same goal to the wrestling we have today which is the need of an athlete to throw his opponent on the ground, landing on a hip, shoulder, or back for a fair fall. Three throws were needed for an athlete to win a match. Some of their rules were, no biting was allowed, and genital holds were illegal. However, attacks like breaking the opponent’s fingers were permitted.


Pankration was an exhausting combination of boxing and wrestling in the ancient Olympics. Like in the boxing and wrestling events, it also had separate divisions for both men and boys. Athletes were allowed to punch, however, they wore any gloves or himantes on their hands.

The only forbidden moves in this sport were biting and scratching the opponent’s eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails. Other attacks like kicking the opponent in the belly, which is an illegal move in the modern sports, were perfectly legal in the ancient Games.


Pentathlon was a sports event in the ancient Games were running and wrestling were also involved. Aside from that, it was also consisted of three other sports which were discus, javelin, and jumping.


The rhythm and precision of an athlete throwing the discus was considered by the ancient Greeks as important as his strength. The discus was shaped like a flying saucer and it was made of stone, iron, bronze, or lead. Its size varied because boys in their division were not expected to throw the same weight as in the men’s division.


The javelin was like the discus which was thrown in length, however, it had a second section where they threw for accuracy. It was a lighter and longer version of a war spear.

Javelin was made of wood that was man-high in length. It had either a sharpened end or an attached metal point. It also had a leather strap called amentum for a hurler’s fingers attached to its center of gravity. This helped increase the accuracy and distance of a javelin’s flight.


The long jump performed in the ancient Olympics was perhaps the most unusual compared to its modern athletics version. The athletes back in those times used halteres, which were weights to propel themselves farther out of standing.

These weights were held in front of the athlete during his rise and they would forcibly thrust them behind their backs and dropped during their descent which made their bodies reach further lengths. Their jumps were also consisted of five separate leaps instead of doing a triple jump.


There were two equestrian sports events held in the ancient Olympic Games. One was chariot racing and the other one was riding. Back in those times, these were the most prestigious competitions in the Games. It was because only the rich people were able to afford the maintenance and transportation of horses.

Chariot Racing

Chariot racing involved two types of races, 2-horse chariot and 4-horse chariot, with separate races for chariots drawn by foals. There was another race which was among carts that were drawn by a team of two mules. The course of the races was 12 laps around the stadium track which was a total of 9 miles.


In this race, the Greeks did not use any saddles or stirrups, therefore, a good grip and balance were required. The course for this race was 6 laps around the track which was a total of 4.5 miles. There were also separate races for full-grown horses and foals.

Since only the wealthy owners paid for the training, equipment, as well as the foods of both the jockey and the horses, they were the ones who received the olive wreath of victory instead of the jockey.

These were the original ancient Olympic sports. The ancient Games continued through the Hellenistic period and more buildings were added to the site. The final ancient Olympic Game was held in 393 CE, when Emperor Theodosios finally declared that all cult practices, including the Games, to be stopped. All in all, there were a total of 293 ancient Olympic Games that were held for more than a millennium.

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