Photograph by Universal History Archive, UIG via Getty Images
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An engraving depicts the Olympics in ancient Greece. Athletes were known to place curses on opponents, pay bribes, and party all night.

Photograph by Universal History Archive, UIG via Getty Images

Long Before Lochte, Ancient Olympians Were Serious Troublemakers

The ancient Olympics featured doping, bribery, boozing, and, shall we say, “finger snapping.”

Olympic fans were outraged this week by “LochteGate” (or “LochMess,” depending on your taste for puns). To recap: United States Swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed that he and three other athletes were robbed at gunpoint in Rio. But this story fell apart when video and other evidence showed that the Olympians had in fact damaged private property after attending a party, then paid for the damages. On Friday, Lochte apologized. Many Brazilians are furious over Lochte’s claims, saying Lochte has disparaged their country.

Unfortunately, the history of Olympians behaving badly is as long as the games themselves. Here’s what Olympic antics looked like in ancient times.


One of the biggest scandals at this year’s Olympics was the revelation of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia. Ancient Greeks had their own kind of “doping” too, writes historian David Clay Large in Foreign Policy—though their performance-enhancing substances of choice, which included opiate-laced drinks and animal testicles, have long fallen out of fashion.

Imbibing substances to win games wasn’t against the rules in the ancient games, Large writes, but black magic was: Competitors weren’t supposed to put curses on their opponents. (Nevertheless, some apparently did.)


In 2002, the winter Olympics were overshadowed by the revelation that the pairs’ figure skating results had been fixed. Nothing new there. Around 388 B.C., the traveling writer Pausanias wrote about an Olympic boxer who bribed three of his opponents to lose.

People caught giving or taking bribes at the ancient games were forced to pay fines. The money from these fines was used to build statues of Zeus at the entrance to the stadion, or racing stadium, to serve as a warning to athletes. Even so, any athlete caught paying bribes still got to keep his medals, even if he’d fixed the game in which he’d won them.


Whenever the Olympics roll around, you can expect articles about drinking and partying in the Olympic Village. According to Tony Perrotet, author of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games, the original games were also a time when some athletes would let loose.

“This was like five days of living it up,” he told National Geographic in a previous interview. “People didn't sleep much at all. Students would organize these symposia that turned into drunken orgies.”

Some Very Rude Behavior

Many ancient Olympic sports aren’t practiced at the modern games. That includes pankration, a combat event sort of like Mixed Martial Arts in which everything but biting and gouging was allowed. (Read “Olympic Games We No Longer Play.”)

One fighter in these games was Sostratos of Sikyon, who was nicknamed “Mr. Fingertips.” But the name isn’t as cute as it might sound. Sostratos earned it because he was known to break his opponent’s fingers at the beginning of a match.

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