Arrachion of Phigalia
A heroic and at the same time tragic event took place at Olympia, when the pankratiast Arrachion from Phigalia died during the game. Arrachion being in a difficult position, when his opponent grabbed his neck, managed to make him raise his hand (the sign of defeat) by twisting his leg, while himself was dying. Arrachion, though dead, was pronounced the winner. He won three times at Olympia (572/568/564 BC).

Another myth about the origin of the Olympic Games comes from the Tenth Olympian Ode of the poet Pindar. He tells the story of how Herakles, on his fifth labor, had to clean the stables of King Augeas of Elis. Herakles approached Augeas and promised to clean the stables for the price of one-tenth of the king’s cattle. Augeas agreed, and Herakles rerouted the Kladeos and Alpheos rivers to flow through the stables. Augeas did not fulfill his promise, however, and after Herakles had finished his labors he returned to Elis and waged war on Augeas. Herakles sacked the city of Elis and instituted the Olympic Games in honor of his father, Zeus. It is said that Herakles taught men how to wrestle and measured out the stade, or the length of the footrace.


(a modern warrior)

(This story is not about an Ancient Olympian but about a modern Olympian that exhibits zen qualities so I added it to the series that is collected here. I hope you get from this what I did. (~_~)


WHEN the British Olympic Association surveyed its athletes across all sports it emerged archers trained the most to earn their Olympic stripes. A significant factor in this is the proliferation of Korean coaches, who have brought a discipline and zeal to the many nations who pay for their services. ”Before we had a Korean coach, we would shoot three or four hours a day,” says Rahul Banerjee, a contender to win individual gold for India. ”Now we have a Korean coach, we shoot eight or nine hours.”

Very little of this toil is physical, for archery is the most zen of all Olympic pursuits. It is surely also the quietest; on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s this week, archers from more than a dozen countries have practised in a silence punctuated only by the whisper of arrow leaving bow, and the soft pock of its entry into the target 70 metres away.

Waiting for his rotation on Thursday, Im Dong-Hyun sat as still as a statue. Minutes passed before any sign of life, and even when a hand lifted to scratch one of his shoulders, it was done with an economy of effort that smacked of a man in a trance.

Which is exactly where an archer needs to be, especially if, like Im, you’re legally blind.

Having 20/200 vision in his left and leading eye, and 20/100 in his right (when 20/20 marks perfection) means the target looks to Im like a canvas of different coloured paints dropped in water. Yet he has been a member of the three-man teams that have won gold at the past two Olympics, continuing a South Korean dominance that amounts to four of the six men’s team golds contested. ”We say in archery, if you don’t think too much and you don’t see too much, it’s good, because you are focused,” says Juan Carlos Holgado, who won a famous team gold for Spain 20 years ago in Barcelona. ”When you don’t see too much, it’s getting dark, you just aim in the circle, and things start to group. He sees the target, he sees the sight, he can align the two circles, that’s enough.”

Holgado runs through the checklist that makes for a single, perfect shot, which is rather more involved than when Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood was firing arrows in Sherwood Forest. Feeling for a pressure point with bow in hand; tension of the three fingers holding the string; focus on the body’s curve; low front shoulder; slow yet smooth withdrawal; contact of string on face; aim, relax, release.

”One-by-one is easy, but you put them together and you are beating (the heart), 120 a minute, all of this ends in a feeling,” Holgado says. ”I know the feeling of a good shot. The less you think and the more you focus in the present, the better it goes.”

The quest to unpick the lock to this ”zone” is why archers are more likely to be found on a yoga mat than a treadmill. ”Our main goal is to be in the present. If you are focused on what you do, you’ve done it a thousand times, you create the zone.

”You don’t bring in expectation, past experience of what you’ve done, things that make you think.”

I found enough tranquillity (or dumb beginner’s luck) to score a couple of nines, albeit with a bow strung at around 20 pounds; elite competition bows are in the mid-40s, and a chore to draw.

There was also the small matter of being just eight metres from the target. Asked how we’d fare from the 70m mark, Delgado put our chances of hitting anywhere on the board – let alone the yellow centre – at ”0.5 per cent”.

The emphasis on mental fitness over physical allows for a range of body shapes among competitors. Australians Taylor Worth and Elisa Barnard aren’t big, while the belt on Im’s shoulder brace rests on a tummy.

Michael Peart, the reserve for Great Britain’s team, describes himself as an overweight man who can still run a half marathon and shoot 300 arrows a day, six days a week. ”It’s like playing the violin – the strongest guys aren’t going to go out there, grunt, and win,” Peart says. ”It takes a long time to train athletes to play the violin.”

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