In the races (both for men and for horses), every participant started in a lane of his own, attributed to him by sortition. For each participant a lot – usually a small object, e.g. sherds, distinguished by a letter or sign, or beans – was thrown in an urn. The lots were shuffled and then every athlete received one lot. The letter or sign on it referred to the lane.
Also in the combat sports, competitors were matched up by means of sortition. Again as many lots as there were competitors were put in an urn. Now the lots formed pairs, e.g. two with the letter alpha, two with the letter beta, etc. Every athlete took one lot from the urn and each was matched up with the athlete with the same lot. If the number of competitors was uneven, one athlete was lucky and drew a unique lot. He who had drawn the bye, the ‘ephedros’, went to the next round without having to fight. The sortition repeated itself before each round.
During the sortition ceremony the athletes were naked. In this way, it was easier to assess the strength of one’s opponent. Unlucky athletes, who were matched up with a much stronger opponent, had the opportunity to withdraw before it was too late. They preferred this to failure or serious wounds. Their opponent would then proceed directly to the next round.