Scholar strips to show why Ancient Greek athletes raced in the nude

July 2, 2004

An academic has stripped off for the TV cameras in a bid to test his theory that Ancient Greek athletes competed naked to run faster.

Stephen Instone, an honorary research fellow at University College London, was advising the BBC on the events staged at the original Olympic games.

His ideas were then adapted by a modern coach who helped Loughborough University students recreate the ancient techniques for a forthcoming programme, The First Olympians .

But when asked about the practicalities of male athletes running in the nude, Dr Instone, an amateur marathon runner, found he was the only person prepared to accept the challenge.

"My theory humorously backfired," he admitted. "They lined me up with good sprinters wearing modern Lycra.

"But although I came in last by some way, it showed you can run perfectly well with nothing on."

The BBC programme revolves around recreating events that an ancient pentathlete, whose remains were found in southern Italy, may have competed in.

The first Olympic Games in 776BC featured only a race along the length of the stadium.

Further events were subsequently introduced with the first pentathlon, involving sprint, javelin, discus, long jump and wrestling, held in 708BC.

Dr Instone said that the BBC's restaging showed the feasibility of Ancient Greek techniques that differ from those employed in the modern version.

These included attaching a finger strap to the javelin to make it spin as it was thrown, and holding weights in a standing long jump to gain extra distance.

"With some practice we demonstrated that the Ancient Greek peculiarities were effective," Dr Instone said.

These included running naked. "In a hot climate you may as well wear nothing," Dr Instone said.

Unfortunately, the programme was shot in Loughborough, in England, last autumn. "It was indeed very cold," Dr Instone said.

The First Olympians is scheduled to be broadcast towards the end of July on BBC2.

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