Could modern athletes perform their incredible feats if they shed their clothes to compete naked like the ancient Greeks?
While modern sneakers and athletic suits offer some benefits to competitors, the psychological impacts of not wearing clothes could outweigh the physical effects.
An ancient Greek legend says that in 720 BC, an Olympian named Orsippus of Megara was competing in the 185m race when his loincloth slipped off. Instead of stopping to hide his embarrassment, Orsippus ran and won the race. His triumphant example stayed. Naked athletic competition, often emphasized through the liberal anointing of olive oil, became all the rage in Greece, seen as the last tribute to Zeus.
“There was this whole idea that Orsippus was heroic and victorious, and then celebrated that he was naked,” says Sarah Bond, associate professor of history at the University of Iowa. “The Greeks who were naked became a way of recognizing his character. Greek and its civility “.
However, by the time the modern Olympics were revived in 1896, the cultural tides had turned long ago. The organizers did not even consider bringing back the Greek tradition of nude competition. And in modern athletic competition, clothing now also plays an essential role in performance: running shoes offer grip and add spring to a runner’s stride, swimwear can help swimmers slide through the water more easily, and tight suits can reduce wind resistance.
This summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, however, promise to be unusual in many ways, given the limitations of Covid-19. But what if the Games took an even more unusual step in reestablishing the nudity of the original Greek Olympic tradition? While no one is seriously considering doing this, the idea raises interesting questions about athletic performance, cultural norms, sexism, and more.
To begin with, competing naked would create uncomfortable logistical problems for many athletes. While modern competitors often perform their sports virtually naked, wearing only skin-tight clothing, for example, certain pieces of clothing serve important primary purposes: keeping women’s breasts and men’s genitalia in place. “Without being crude, that helps in terms of comfort, at least,” says Shawn Deaton, director of special projects at North Carolina State University’s Center for Textile Protection and Comfort.
Original publication 28 July, 2021
Posted on NatCorn 22nd August 2021
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