To withdraw

If athletes wanted to compete at the Olympics, they had to arrive at Olympia one month before the start of the games. A similar obligatory training period probably existed at other major games as well. This did not only give all athletes the possibility to train in a similar manner, but it also offered the opportunity to assess the strength of their contestants. If they observed that they would be chanceless, they could withdraw. Withdrawal was preferred to the disgrace of being defeated. At the Olympic games it was forbidden to withdraw once the games had started, though allowed during the preparatory weeks. If an athlete did this anyway, as Theagenes once did , he was fined.

Sometimes one athlete commanded so much respect, that all the other competitors withdrew from the contest. This was called a victory ‘akoniti’, which can be translated as ‘without dust’. This meant that an athlete from a combat sport won without entering the dusty sandpit where the matches took place. In running events, this kind of victory was extremely rare.

To us it seems rather weak to win without having to fight, but for the Greeks this was very honorable, for it meant that one commanded respect among all participants. The great champions mentioned this proudly in their victory list on stone.

© KU Leuven, 2012