Texas Tech University

Experiment Recreates Long Jump from Ancient Olympic Games

Glenys Young

November 18, 2015

Volunteers will model different jumping styles, trying to determine the ancient method.

Long Jump
Depiction of the ancient long jump
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

As athletics enthusiasts on campus and around Lubbock look forward to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, faculty in the Texas Tech University Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures (CMLL) are warming up with a captivating and evocative experiment in jumping the Ancient Greek way.

The Olympics began in 776 BC, and the long jump was part of the Greek ancient games for more than 1,000 years. However, scholars of ancient sports have not quite figured out how the Greeks jumped.

“It's never been clear whether the Ancient Greek jump was a standing long jump or a running long jump, or whether it was a series of jumps like the modern triple jump,” said Peter Miller, a visiting assistant professor in CMLL. “The ancient evidence, as it is so often, is unclear, and we're hoping we can reveal some new details by actually performing a jump, in as close to ancient conditions as possible.”

Peter Miller
Peter Miller

Beyond the question of the type of jump, Ancient Greek athletes used jumping weights, two dumbbell-like objects that weighed between two and five pounds each. Hannah Friedman, an assistant professor in CMLL, has been working with William and Shannon Cannings, an assistant professor of sculpture and an instructor, respectively, in the Texas Tech School of Art, to design and build bronze jumping weights for the experiment.

“We've made them as close as possible to some of the ancient models, and we've had to consider questions of – for example – balance that are completely ignored in ancient times,” Friedman said. “Of course, we've added a few modern touches when it comes to decoration, and our fantastic colleagues in the School of Art are giving them a Red Raider look.”

Miller and Friedman have teamed up with David H.J. Larmour, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Classics, to design an experiment in which volunteer jumpers, who are selected from Texas Tech faculty and students, will perform a series of jumps of different types with different weights, while Miller and Larmour record, measure and film their efforts. The researchers are hopeful by studying the volunteers jumping with weights and interviewing the subjects afterward, they will gain valuable insight into what ancient sources say about the type of jump but also into ancient athletic practices more generally.

Athletic Physical Education Facility
Jumps will take place at Texas Tech's Athletic Physical Education Facility.

The jumps will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 21) at Texas Tech's indoor track and field facility, the Athletic Training Center, 2526 Mac Davis Lane. The event is closed to the public.

Texas Tech Athletics has been extremely accommodating and excited, Miller said.

“Tech has a proud tradition of athletics excellence in track and field, and our experiment is expanding our knowledge of the origins of athletics,” Miller said. “I can't think of a better way to integrate the athletics and academic sides of the university.”