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UCR Olympics Expert Adds Perspective to Modern Games

UCR Olympics Expert Adds Perspective to Modern Games

(February 7, 2002)

As Thomas Scanlon watches the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, he will be pondering the past.

A classics professor at the University of California, Riverside, Scanlon is an expert on the first Olympics, which began in 776 B.C. and ended in 393 A.D. Like today, the ancient games included opening rituals, questions about eligibility and allegations of bribery. Athletes trained and ate specialized diets.

“They most likely did not use performance-enhancing drugs,” he said. “I think they would have seen it as tempting the fates or challenging the gods.”

Married women were not allowed to compete, nor were they allowed to even watch the competition, on penalty of death. Young unmarried women were allowed to compete in a separate contest, called the “Heraia,” in honor of the Greek goddess Hera, Scanlon said.

The first real appearance of women Olympians did not happen until 1928.

The Olympic torch, the notion of the amateur athlete, and the concept of gold, silver and bronze medals are all inventions of the modern games, said Scanlon, who is featured in a History Channel production currently on the air called “The First Olympics.”

During ancient days, athletes anointed themselves with olive oil and dust. After competition their bodies were scraped and the leavings sold as powerful medicine. “I think we can be reasonably certain that is not happening today,” he said.

Scanlon’s latest book: “Eros and Greek Athletics,” has just been released from Oxford University Press. He said it is a study of the social context of sports, including gender, sexuality, body culture, religion and education. The publishing house can be found on the web at

Thomas Scanlon can be reached by telephone at (909) 787-5007, ext. 1462, or via email at

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