Theory on ancient Greek athletes gathers momentum

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The Independent Online

Olympic athletes in ancient Greece swung heavy weights in their hands so that they could jump further, according to scientists who have discovered that the extra momentum markedly increased performance.

Olympic athletes in ancient Greece swung heavy weights in their hands so that they could jump further, according to scientists who have discovered that the extra momentum markedly increased performance.

Greek art frequently depicts athletes holding hand-held weights called halteres but historians were not sure whether these were to increase the jumping distance or make the challenge even more difficult.

Alberto Minetti and Luca Ardigo, sports scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University, calculated that the weights would have allowed an athlete to increase a three-metre jump by an extra 17cm – an improvement in performance of about 6 per cent.

"Halteres were swung back and forth by the jumper before take-off, thrust forward during the first part of the flight, and finally swung backwards just before landing, as depicted on a variety of vase paintings," the scientists say in the journal Nature. Halteres found at archaeological sites were usually made of stone or lead, and weigh up to 9kg (20lb). The scientists showed that throwing the weights forwards on take-off and backwards on landing was a surprisingly efficient method of boosting a jump from a standing start.

Computer simulations showed that the weights altered an athlete's centre of gravity in mid-flight, which in effect enabled the momentum of the weights to pull him further forward on take-off. Four athletes then tested the thesis.

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