Ancient Greece Produced Stronger, Tougher and More Natural Athletes Than Today
There’s no doubt whatsoever that the ancient Greek athletes were some of the most natural, tough, and badass guys the world has ever known. Especially when it comes to combat sports such as wrestling, boxing, and pankration (think of MMA but way more brutal), it’s safe to say that modern champions, even with the help of substances like anabolic steroids, wouldn’t last more than a couple of rounds with the likes of Melankomas, Polydamas, Diagoras, Theagenes, and Milo of Croton. To get an idea, Milo of Croton remains to this day the most decorated Olympic wrestler of all time, with seven victories at seven different Olympic Games. He won the boy’s wrestling tournament in 540 BC at the 60th Olympics, and went on to win the men’s competition a record six times from the 61st through the 66th Olympiad.
He had an estimated 1,200 wins and one loss over age 48, while the modern record held by the greatest wrestler of our day – Alexander Karelin – is 887 wins and two losses. Milo’s size and physique were described as out of this world, and his strength and technique perfect, which led many people to believe he was the son of Zeus. Ancient sources report that he would show off his strength by holding his arm out, fingers outstretched, with no man able to bend even his pinky finger. Another source claims that during his prime he carried a four-year-old cow on his back to the Olympic stadium and sacrificed it to Zeus with his bare hands.
Another great example would be Theagenes of Thasos, the fighter with the most recorded victories in all combat sports. Often described as an extremely strong, muscular, and tall man, Theagenes won two Olympic titles, in boxing in 480 BC and pankration in 476 BC. He competed for 22 years in every major combat competition of his time (boxing, pankration, wrestling), winning various titles all across the ancient world. According to Greek historian Pausanias, he won an estimated 1,400 fights; about 1,200 more victories than Willie Pep, who, with 229 wins, is considered the winningest boxer of our day.
Other than combat sports, however, ancient Greek athletes were phenomenal in other athletic competitions as well, such as javelin. Even though we don’t know many details about ancient javelin-throwing, modern historians suggest that most elite throwers averaged throws of about 92 m. It is important to point out here that javelin throwers, like all athletes of the time, competed without special equipment, barefoot, and were given only a few steps to throw, instead of the pretty long run-up that is available for modern javelin throwers. More importantly, javelin-throwing was part of the pentathlon contest and followed the sprint.
In other words, athletes didn’t give their best effort at the throw so as to preserve energy for the three events that followed (the discus throw, the long jump, and wrestling), plus they had already participated in a track race before they even started. Still, they averaged a throw of about 92 m, while the current world record is 98.48 m. The aforementioned facts have led many modern experts concluding that if ancient javelin throwers solely focused on the javelin event, they could have easily broken the 100 m barrier even without modern equipment and performance-enhancing drugs.