Were ancient Greek athletes tougher than today’s Olympians?

Fascinating article from Slate Magazine that compares some Olympic scores from ancient Greek athletes to those of modern Olympians.  The results are alternately predictable and fascinating:


One of the great “What ifs” of the sporting world is the idea of taking a famous (older) team in its prime and theoretically putting it up against another (modern) formidable team.  Kobe Bryant cracked that window a bit when he made reference to this current Olympic Basketball team being able to beat the “Dream Team” of 1992.  The critics instantly scoffed at Bryant’s statements.  Many of them felt there was absolutely no way that this current Olympic basketball team could win even one game against the 1992 team.

But I wonder.

A few years before he passed away, Jim Mandich, the plainspoken and very entertaining ex-Miami Dolphin tight end and radio announcer noted that while he prided himself for having been a part of the “Undefeated” Dolphin team of 1972 as well as what many consider the even better Superbowl winning team of 1973 (though they did not replicate their undefeated record of the year before), he felt that as legendary as those teams were, they wouldn’t put up much of a fight against modern football teams.

The fact is that with each passing year, modern athletics become more and more of a science.  And thanks to larger financial rewards, many athletes today can spend virtually the entire year conditioning themselves into peak physical shape.  Back in the early 1970’s, it was not uncommon for football players to spent the off season working at other jobs to sustain themselves.  A friend of mine, for example, recalled meeting Larry Csonka, perhaps one of the most famous of those Miami Dolphins, working at a car dealership during his off season.

So, who would win…today’s athletes or those of yesteryear?  In the end, its all theory.

But if someone one day comes up with a time machine and brings athletes from the past in their prime to play against athletes of the present (or more recent past)…Even though I’d love to think that some of my favorite athletes and teams from the past are and will always be the best, I think I’d put my money on more the modern athletes over them.