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UCR Olympics expert adds perspective

A UCR Olympics expert adds perspective to modern games

(August 28, 2000)

Would ancient Greeks approve of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs? Would they allow women to compete? And what about letting professional athletes play?

University of California, Riverside Classics Professor Thomas F. Scanlon is available to answer such questions that add perspective to stories about the upcoming Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. He has written four books about ancient Greek and Roman athletics and numerous articles on the subject.

Scanlon's answers to the questions posed above include:

Although the Greeks introduced systematic training and specialized diets, they would probably not use performance-enhancing drugs. 'I think they would see it as tempting the fates or challenging the gods.' However placing curses on dolls representing opponents was a frequently done, although not readily admitted.

Athenian women could not participate in or view the games unless they were unmarried. In Sparta, girls competed against each other separate from men but both sexes were encouraged to view each other's events. Female athletes dressed like men, wearing either an off-the-shoulder chiton that left one shoulder and breast bare, or nothing at all.

While not compensated in competitions, victorious ancient Olympic athletes were frequently given hero status at home and lavished with homes, money and livestock.

The notion of the amateur athlete was not Greek, but a creation of the modern games that lasted from 1896 to 1992, Scanlon said. To the Greeks winning was everything. There were no silver or bronze medals.

Thomas Scanlon can be reached by telephone at (909) 787-5007, extension 1462.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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