3. Ancient Olympic Runners Differed From Modern Ones
The sole athletic event in the early ancient Greeks’ Olympic Games was the stadion. It was named after a building that was big enough to contain 20 competitors, who ran an approximately 200 yard or 180-meter sprint. The first few races might have been slightly longer, however, as the original stadion in Olympia had a track that was 210 yards or 190 meters long. The athletes lined up, and games officials were positioned at the jump-off blocks to keep a sharp eye out against false starts.
Modern runners take off from a crouch, but ancient Greek sprinters took off from an upright position, with their arms stretched out before them. They were also naked. It is unclear how the original start line was marked, but by the fifth century BC at the latest, there was a stone start line, known as the balbis. In due course, a set of double grooves about four to four and a half inches apart were carved into the balbis for runners to place their toes and get some leverage to launch themselves at the start of the race.