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Were the Ancient Greek Olympic athletes really amateurs?

March 21, 2012|By Brian Cronin

These games caused a movement that eventually led to Pierre de Coubertin's successful attempt to start the Modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens. Brookes' ideas regarding amateurism (which was "athletes should not be paid for their efforts") remained the standard for all the other games of the era and ultimately became the standard adopted by the Olympics. However, this standard seemed less interested in celebrating the nobility of "playing for the love of the game" so much as they were celebrating the nobility of, well, the nobility.

As who in the world could afford to pursue such unpaid athletic endeavors? Why, the wealthy of course. This led to such arduous rules such as competitors being barred from amateur competitions if they were or ever had been employed as "a mechanic, artisan or labourer." As an example, I wrote in an old Sports Legend about the difficulties the great British rower Bobby Pearce went through to be able to compete in British's Diamond Challenge Sculls amateur rowing competition because he worked as a carpenter.

Eventually, these standards were relaxed and we reached the point today where we can watch the actual best athletes in the world compete against each other in most Olympic events, whatever their backgrounds may be. When you watch these athletes compete, whether they make millions from endorsements or get by working odd jobs during the year (like Olympic snowboard teammates Shaun White and Tyler Jewell, respectively), rest assured that they are all competing for the love of sport, and the noble aspirations Brundage talked about in the past are being met today.

The legend is...

STATUS: False.

Thanks to John A. Davis' The Olympic Games Effect and Kristine Toohey and Anthony J. Veal's The Olympic Games for their work on this topic.

Be sure to check out my website, Sports Urban Legends Revealed, for more sports urban legends. I have archives of all the past urban legends featured on the site in the categories of: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Football/Soccer and the Olympics. Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more! Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com. And please buy my book, "Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed! here.

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