Meet the oldest known ancient Olympic athlete

This ancient Olympic athlete competed 2,500 years ago

With the body of a Greek statue, he would have been the ideal of the Olympic style hero.

While his name is unknown, anthropologist Sarah Bisel told National Geographic News :

β€œhe must have been an all-around natural athlete β€” well-nourished, well-exercised, the personification of the Olympic spirit. He could do anything”

He was only about 5’7β€³ tall, or a bit above average for the time. Although not handsome, he had a very masculine face, with a largish nose and a remarkably perfect set of teeth.

He was strong and stocky, with broad shoulders and powerful muscles.

Trace elements in his bones revealed a diet rich in seafood and meat, and the pristine condition of his teeth backed up a low-carb diet.

This ancient Olympic athlete was an all-rounder

ancient Olympic athlete

At his left hand was an alabastron, a jar full of ointment that athletes used in ancient Greece.

Around him were winner’s prizes for the pentathlon, chariot-race and boxing at the ancient Panathenaic Games.

Although this athlete was only in his late 20s or early 30s at the time of his death, he already suffered from degeneration of his shoulder joints.

Wear-and-tear in the right shoulder joint plus large trapezius and deltoid muscles plus a right ulna (forearm bone) much bigger than the left all suggest this man was a world-class discus thrower.

Further investigation showed powerful calf muscles as well. In a biomechanical simulation, the team discovered that this ancient athlete was likely good at the long jump, able to leap as many as three meters.

None of his bones was ever broken and there are no signs of physical trauma.

So did our ancient athlete actually participate in the Olympics?


Unfortunately, we can’t prove a direct link between the athlete of Taranto and the Olympic Games.

Archaeologists infer his likely participation in them based on how successful he was at the Panathenaic Games.

Taranto, Italy was a city of champions and may have been a training centre for athletes.

A champion at the games in Athens would almost certainly have been invited to compete in the Olympics.

The prize at the Games was an olive branch; there is no hope of preserving botanical evidence.

Bonus Video

For a glimpse of what the Greek Olympic games might have looked like, check out this great video by the Try Guys:

The champion’s skeleton is displayed at the National Museum in Taranto, Italy.

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