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Sporting Vernacular 27. Athletics

AS BRITAIN'S athletes fly the flag at the World Championships in Seville, they will all be "competing for a prize", both literally and etymologically. The Greek thlon meant "award" or "prize", from which came the verb athlein and the noun athletes.

The word was most commonly used in the public games, which consisted of such events as races and boxing matches, and from then, the meaning of athlete narrowed down to denote "one who takes part in sports involving physical exercise", and even further down to "participant in track and field events." In 1605, Bacon wrote of the "Art of activity, which is called athletic."

The first athlete and the first winner whose name we know was Koroibos of Elis, who won the stadium race, a sprint of about 170 metres, in the Olympic Games of 776BC. Whether he tested positive for Nandrolone is unknown.