24. The Ancient Greek World’s Greatest Athlete
The most famous and celebrated athlete of the ancient Greeks was Milo of Croton (flourished 6th century BC). A wrestler of great renown, he was also a renowned warrior who led his fellow citizens to military victory. A freakishly powerful man, he carried a bull on his shoulders by way of strength training, and his daily diet reportedly included twenty pounds of meat, twenty pounds of bread, washed down by ten liters of wine. To intimidate his opponents, Milo ate raw bull’s meat in their presence, and drank raw bull’s blood. His string of athletic victories was unprecedented and unsurpassed. He dominated the quadrennial Panhellenic Games – the Olympic, Pythian, Nymean, and Isthmian – for decades.
Back then, the people of Croton, modern Crotone in southern Italy, were famous for their physical strength, and the city produced generations of champions. In the 576 BC Olympics, for example, the first seven finishers in the 200-yard sprint, the stadion, were all from Croton. Milo surpassed all who came before him. All in all, in a decades-long stretch from 540 BC to about 516 BC, Milo of Croton reportedly won the wrestling championship in six Olympic Games, seven Pythian Games, nine Nemean Games, and ten Isthmian Games. He was also a five-time Periodonikes – a kind of “grand slam” title the ancient Greeks bestowed upon somebody who was crowned champion in all four Panhellenic Games in the same four-year cycle.