The Pentathlon: Throw that Discus, Son!

By: The Scribe on Monday, July 22, 2013

Discobolus_Kleomelos_Louvre_G111While modern Olympic athletes train in specific sports for years and years to be the best in their area, the athletes of ancient Greece had a much more intense calling, specifically those who competed in the Pentathlon. The Pentathlon was made up of five different events, and while we don’t have any surviving texts that explain exactly what qualified someone as the “winner” of the event, we do know that the “Ultimate Victor” needed to win three of the five events. Take that, modern pentathlon!

Discus throwing was one of the five events in the ancient pentathlon (and is not included in the modern version). It’s an event in which an athlete throws a heavy disc, or “discus”, as far as possible. The winner is the athlete who can throw it farther than the other competitors.

Present evidence dates the ancient pentathlon, and discus throwing, as far back as 708 B.C. Originally, the discus was shaped out of stone, though later versions were made of bronze, lead, or iron—which we know from archaeological excavations that have found ancient discs from the sport!

discobolusThe diameter of the excavated discs ranges from between 17 and 35 centimeters, and they tend to weigh between 1.3 and 6.6 kg—quite the range of size and weight, but written evidence provides an explanation: Each city where athletes trained had its own weight standard, while some major differences come as a result of differently sized discs for men versus boys.

When it came to the Olympics, however, three discs of standardized sizes were kept in the Sikyonian treasury. Gotta keep things fair, after all!

The sport’s enduring legacy through the millennia is probably helped by several ancient Greek statues and paintings of discus throwers—notably, Myron’s Discobolus statue (pictured to the left) from the 5th century B.C.


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