A Brief, Stripped Down History of Running Naked: Weird Running History

history of running

The first ever recorded naked runner wasn’t out to be flashy (pun completely intended). His feat was one of athleticism and, it’s argued, social commentary. 

The first naked runner hailed from ancient Greece and his reason for running in the buff might’ve actually been both functional and political. Weird, right? Let’s dive in.

The History of Naked Running

The year was 720 B.C. and ancient Greece was abuzz with excitement. The fifteenth Olympic games were in full swing and the competition was fierce. The traditional garment of competition was the loincloth. But one runner took it upon himself to buck tradition. A true pioneer and crowd favorite, Orsippus was racing in the most prestigious running race of the Olympics, the stadion (fun fact: ‘stadion’ later gave way to the word ‘stadium’). The approximately 200 yard race started with a trumpet blast and the runners were off!

But that wasn’t the only thing that was off. Orsippus’ loin cloth ‘fell off’ during the race. It’s up for debate as to whether this slip was accidental or purposeful (aerodynamics!). Ancient Greek historian and traveling geographer believed the supposed mishap to be intentional reporting, “My own opinion is that Orsippus intentionally let the girdle slip off him, realizing that a naked man can run more easily than one girt.” Regardless, free in the breeze, Orsippus won and was “first of all Greeks* to be crowned victor naked.”

The Controversy

running naked - ancient greek runners

*There is some disagreement among historians as others believe that it wasn’t Orsippus’ bold declaration (if we believe it to be intentional) that led to nudity in Greek athletics. Rather, some believe a Spartan named Acanthus was the first to bare it all while running competitively. Acanthus participated in two races around the same time as Orsippus and it was documented that Spartans (also called Lacedaemonians) were the first to strip naked during their athletic exercises.

Was Running Naked a Political Statement?

Post-Orsipuss or Acanthus, depending on which account you subscribe to, running naked during races became a thing. Many believed that Orsippus’ action was a direct in-your-face to neighboring enemies of the Greeks, namely the Persians, who found it indecent to appear in the buff while competing. Nudity was a symbol of Greekness strength and power first associated with the Spartans (it was said that Spartan women were known to work out in the nude). So it’s quite possible that nude Orsippus might’ve been one of the first athletes to use the sport as social commentary.

Gymnasium Actually Comes from the Word ‘Naked’

The athletes’ body (specifically the male nude body) was so celebrated in Ancient Greece that they named the structures in which they celebrated athletics via nudity ‘gymnasium.’ These gyms were used to condition the body and the mind and were also home to art forms like sculpture and ceramics. These decorated establishments were named in honor of, you guessed it, nudity! The Greek ‘gymnos’ means ‘naked, unclad, bare.’

These days professional runners and running enthusiasts alike love them some short shorts. So it seems the Greeks were on to something: aerodynamics!

Author bio: Martin Sandman is stoked on surfing, tai chi and running to energize mitochondria and breathe deeply. Martin is a Copywriter and word nerd at Road Runner Sports and has been with the company seven years.

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