Friday, August 21, 2009


by Tony Perrottet


As the summer Olympics return to Athens, Tony Perrottet delves into the ancient world and lets the Greek Games begin again. The acclaimed author of Pagan Holiday brings attitude, erudition and humor to the fascinating story of the original Olympic festival, tracking the event day by day to re-create the experience in all its compelling spectacle.

Using firsthand reports and little-known sources ? including an actual ?Handbook for a Sports Coach? used by the Greeks ? The Naked Olympics creates a vivid picture of an extravaganza performed before as many as forty thousand people, featuring contests as timeless as the javelin throw and as exotic as the chariot race.

Peeling away the layers of myth, Perrottet lays bare the ancient sporting experience -- including the round-the-clock bacchanal inside the tents of the Olympic Village, the all-male nude workouts under the statue of Eros, and history?s first corruption scandals involving athletes. Featuring surprising cameos by sports enthusiasts Plato, Socrates and Herodotus, The Naked Olympics offers essential insights into today?s Games and an unforgettable guide the world? first and most influential athletic festival.

Praise for "The Naked Olympics"

"It's so great to have a truly funny (and poetic) writer putting the lurid colors back on the pale marble, where they belong. Perrottet's writing is not only witty (there are passages that make me laugh aloud) but he has that rarest of writers' talents -- the knack for finding the perfect metaphor. I've quoted 'The Naked Olympics' more than any other book in recent recollection. It's full of what film-historian T. Gene Hatcher calls the 'get-a-load-of-this' factor -- those those juicy, vivid stories you can't wait to tell your friends. To my mind, that quality is the distinguishing trait of great nonfiction."
-- Teller of Penn & Teller, entertainer in Las Vegas, author, onetime Classics major and Latin teacher

A vivid evocation of the blood and guts, not to mention sheer guts, that marked the original Olympic Games more than two thousand years ago. Tony Perrottet tells the gripping story of a festival of physical attainment during which athletes risked and sometimes lost their lives. Today's champions have it easy.?
-- Anthony Everitt, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician

"Erudite, colorful and frequently hilarious, Perrottet's The Naked Olympics is a marvelous resource for athletes, spectators, and scholars alike. I will never watch the Olympic games in quite the same way again."
-- Michael Curtis Ford, author of The Ten Thousand and The Last King

"Popular history at its best."
-- Norman Cantor, Professor Emeritus, New York University, and author of Antiquity: The Civilization of the Ancient World

"Short of building your own time machine, reading Tony Perrottet?s The Naked Olympics will be the closest you?ll come to experiencing the blood, sweat, glory, and greed that were the ancient Olympic Games. Steeped in scholarship, leavened by humor, The Naked Olympics is one of those rare books that you?ll be citing for years to come."
-- Dan Simmons, author of Ilium

Thursday, August 20, 2009


By Chris Chase

The favorite in the women's 800m at the world track championships will run under suspicion that she's actually a man.

After bursting onto the scene with the world's fastest time three weeks ago at a junior meet, South Africa's Caster Semenya, 18, has been dogged by gender-swapping accusations. She will undergo complex gender testing (it's not as easy as you'd think) after her race tonight, but the results won't be available for a few weeks. Semenya had the fastest qualifying time of the eight competitors.

South African officials have acknowledged the controversy, but are standing by Semenya. Molatelo Malehopo, general manager of Athletics South Africa, told UK's Daily Mail:

"She is a female. We are completely sure about that and we wouldn't have entered her into the female competition if we had any doubts.

We have not been absent-minded, we are very sure of her gender. We are aware of the claims that have been made but our aim at the moment is to prepare Caster for the race this evening."

It's nothing new for a great female athlete to be accused of being a man. Babe Didrikson, perhaps the greatest sportswoman of all-time, was constantly being hounded by such slurs. And it's also not unheard of for a man to compete as a woman.

But despite the breathless reports from British and Australian newspapers, there doesn't seem to be any concrete evidence that Semenya is actually a man other than the fact that she runs really fast, has a defined physique and doesn't have the most feminine of features.

It's interesting that the speculation immediately turned to gender rather than steroids, as the latter would be a more logical way to cheat. Normally when athletes lower their personal bests by wide margins, the talk immediately turns toward doping. Not in this case.

And if Semenya was actually a man, wouldn't he/she try to do more to look like a woman? I mean, I've seen Tootsie. Dustin Hoffman didn't go into that TV studio with a buzz cut and form-fitting pants. He put on a dress, teased the hair and wore nail polish and makeup. He sold it. If Semenya was trying to switch genders, wouldn't there be some more effort to glam it up?

The whole thing is pretty insulting and I feel bad for the 18-year old that is getting dragged through this. Maybe she's a he. If that's proven, then I'll be first in line to criticize. But right now there's nothing to suggest that there's anything nefarious going on other than the jealous whispers of competitors.

Update: If there were whispers before, they'll likely turn to shouts now. Caster Semenya thoroughly dominated the field in the 800m final tonight in Berlin, hitting the tape a full 25 meters ahead of the field.

While the other runners were laboring in the backstretch, Semenya looked like she was out for a Sunday jog. Her 1:55.46 was the fastest winning time at the world championships since 1993.

And not that this means anything either way, but when Semenya raised her arms in triumph after the race it was clear that she doesn't shave her armpits. To go back to the Tootsie comparison, if Semenya is actually a man, she/he isn't trying very hard to mask it.

The IAAF insists that the gender testing of Semenya is a "medical issue" not one of foul play.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ancient Olympics Mixed Naked Sports, Pagan Partying. Part One

Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News

The last Olympic Games returned to their birthplace in Greece. But much has changed since the first games were held there almost three millennia ago. National Geographic News spoke with Tony Perrottet, author of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games, to hear what the first Olympics were really like.

The Olympic Games were held every four years from 776 B.C. to A.D. 394, making them the longest-running recurring event in antiquity. What was the secret of the games' longevity?

It was the sheer spectacle of it. Sports [were] one part of a grand, all-consuming extravaganza. It was first and foremost a religious event, held on the most sacred spot in the ancient world. It had this incredible aura of tradition and sanctity.

Today's Olympics is a vast, secular event, but it doesn't have the religious element of the ancient Olympics, where sacrifices and rituals would take up as much time as the sports. And there were all these peripheral things that came with the festival: the artistic happenings, new writers, new painters, new sculptors. There were fire-eaters, palm readers, and prostitutes.

This was the total pagan entertainment package.

Today the Olympics are celebrated for their noble ideals of competition, friendship and culture. Do we find those ideals in the ancient games?

We have a very sentimental attitude toward the ancient games. But this romanticized image with gentlemanly behavior and chivalry was largely devised by Victorian scholars in the 19th century.

Perhaps the most inspiring ancient ideal was the moratorium on war during the games, a sacred truce that allowed travelers to safely get to the games. But the ancient Greeks were not as idealistic as to try to stop all wars. They just didn't want anything that interfered with the operation of the games. If you wanted to have a war in Sicily, the truce wouldn't stop you at all.

There were times when the truce fell apart. In 364 B.C. the regular organizers lost control of the games, because they had become involved in politics. To get revenge, they attacked the games' new organizers in the middle of a wrestling match. They had this pitched battle going on inside the sanctuary, with archers up on the temples.

The fans took it in stride. They stopped watching the wrestling match and instead watched the battle, applauding as if these were opposing teams at a sports match.

What is the origin of the games?

This has been lost in the mist of time. The ancient Greeks had many mythological reasons for why they were held, but no one knows for sure.
The games were dedicated to [the god] Zeus. There were athletic games all over Greece, but because of the sanctity of Zeus, the Olympics quickly became revered. The first games had just a single foot race, which was won by the cook Koroibos.

How did the athletes prepare themselves for the Games?
They had to appear at the [nearby] city of Elis a month before the games. This was the first Olympic village. There, they had to submit to a grueling training regime designed to weed out those who weren't up to Olympic standards.

While there was no shame in dropping out before the games, athletes who dropped out during the actual games were humiliated. There is a story of one huge wrestler showing up for training. As soon as he took his clothes off, all the other athletes dropped out because they all knew they couldn't beat this guy.

Were the athletes on any special diets?

Some of the dietary fads in antiquity were probably no more logical than what we see today. The traditional diets were very simple: olives, bread, feta cheese, and a reasonable amount of meat. But one wrestler went on an all-fig diet. Doctors would tell athletes they shouldn't eat pork that had been raised on certain berries.

There were a lot of performance-enhancing potions floating around. Lizard's flesh, eaten a certain way, for example, became magic.

Why did the athletes compete in the nude?

The truth is that no one knows. According to one story, it began when a runner lost his loincloth and tripped on it. Everyone took off his loincloth after that. But ancient historians have traced it back to initiation rites—young men walking around naked and sort of entering manhood.

We know how fundamental nudity was to Greek culture. It really appealed to the exhibitionism and the vanity of the Greeks. Only barbarians were afraid to show their bodies. The nude athletes would parade like peacocks up and down the stadium. Poets would write in a shaky hand these wonderful odes to the bodies of the young men, their skin the color of fired clay.

But other cultures, like the Persians and the Egyptians, looked at these Greek men oiling one another down and writhing in the mud, and found it very strange. They believed it promoted sexual degeneracy.

Was homosexuality accepted?

The Greeks would not have understood the word. Sexual acts between two grown men would have been considered entirely shocking. But pederasty was inherent to the Greek gymnasium culture, and you had all these men mentoring pre-pubescent boys. It was socially accepted and considered part of a boy's education, but it wasn't discussed openly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roethlisberger Accuser Aallegedly Bragged About Sex

by Yahoo Sports

RENO, Nev. (AP)—The woman suing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for alleged sexual assault has been accused of bragging about having consensual sex with him to a co-worker.

According to court documents filed late Friday, Angela Antonetti said the woman who made the rape claim “did not appear to be upset, stressed-out or nervous” about her time with the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback during a 2008 celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe.

Antonetti said her Harrah’s hotel-casino co-worker “appeared happy and boastful,” and later said she thought she might be pregnant from the encounter. Antonetti made the remarks in a sworn statement attached to a motion to move the case from Reno to Minden, Nev.

“Rather than indicating that she was afraid or apprehensive about this, (the woman) expressed to me that she was hoping for a ‘little Roethlisberger,” said Antonetti, who worked with her at Harrah’s between 2006 and 2009.

Lawyer Cal Dunlap, who represents the woman, declined to comment Saturday.

“We’ll just deal with it in the lawsuit,” he said.

In her lawsuit, the 31-year-old Nevada woman says she was working as a VIP hostess during the tournament when the two-time Super Bowl winner raped her in a hotel penthouse across the street from the golf course—a claim he vehemently denies.

She also alleges Harrah’s officials orchestrated a cover-up, and worked to silence her and undermine her credibility rather than investigate her claims.

But the motion, filed by Roethlisberger’s Nevada lawyer John Echeverria, says her claims were an attempt to exploit his celebrity status and secure an “extortionate payday.”

Antonetti said the woman’s emotional collapse had nothing to do with a rape but resulted from a failed relationship with a married man and then a long-distance relationship that turned out to be a hoax.

Antonetti claims the woman became “very emotionally distraught” afterward, and took a leave of absence from Harrah’s.

Antonetti says she wanted “to set the record straight” after hearing about the claims against Roethlisberger

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sex and Sports: Should Athletes Abstain Before Big Events?

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News

The Winter Olympics may offer plenty of excitement, but there's at least one type of action that many of the athletes are strictly avoiding: sex.

Athletes have long perpetuated the theory that sex before competition zaps energy. Muhammad Ali, for one, reportedly wouldn't make love for six weeks before a fight.

But scientists say there is no physiological evidence to suggest that sex before competition is bad. In fact, some studies suggest that pre-sports sex may actually aid athletes by raising their testosterone levels, for example.

It is unclear, however, what psychological effects sex may have on an athlete's performance. Some scientists suggest that abstinence could help some athletes concentrate better.

"There are two possible ways sex before competition could affect performance," said Ian Shrier, a sports medicine specialist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

"First, it could make you tired and weak the next day," Shrier said. "This has been disproved.

"The second way is that it could affect your psychological state of mind. This has not been tested," he said.

Power Sports

In 2000 Shrier published an editorial titled "Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?" in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. He wrote that the "long-standing myth that athletes should practice abstinence before important competitions may stem from the theory that sexual frustration leads to increased aggression."

The abstinence tradition is particularly strong in power sports, such as boxing and football, in which aggression is considered a valuable trait.

Some people believe the act of ejaculation draws testosterone, the hormone of both sexual desire and aggression, from the body.

"This is a really wrong idea," said Emmanuele A. Jannini of the University of L'Aquila in Italy. Jannini is a professor of endocrinology, the study of bodily secretions, and has studied effects of sex on athletic performance.
Jannini has found that sex in fact stimulates the production of testosterone, thus boosting aggression.

"After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to children's levels," he said. "Do you think this may be useful for a boxer?"
Scientists dismiss the idea that sex the night before competition has a tiring effect on the athlete or that it could weaken the athlete's muscles.

Lovemaking, after all, is not a very demanding exercise. In general sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25 to 50 calories, about the energy it takes to walk up two flights of stairs.

Sexual activity could actually help combat muscle pain or other sports injuries in women, according to Barry Komisaruk, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.

His studies have found that sexual stimulation in women produces a powerful pain-blocking effect. The effect, he says, can last for up to a day in the case of chronic pain such as muscle pain.

"At least one of the mechanisms by which [sex] blocks pain is that it blocks the release of [a neuropeptide called] substance P, which is a pain transmitter," he said.

Komisaruk has also found that vaginal stimulation has a strong effect on muscle tension in the legs, increasing it in some women and decreasing it in others.

Anxiety and Aggression

Much less is known about the psychological effects of sex on athletic performance.

Some experts say coaches may be favoring the abstinence theory simply because they want to make sure young athletes get enough sleep before a big game.

Psychologists have shown there is an optimal level of alertness and anxiety that is necessary to produce the best possible performance. Too much anxiety or too much aggression may result in poor performance.

"If athletes are too anxious and restless the night before an event, then sex may be a relaxing distraction," Shrier wrote in his study.

"If they are already relaxed or, like some athletes, have little interest in sex the night before a big competition, then a good night's sleep is all they need."

The results will depend on individual preferences and routines, Shrier said, adding that consistency is key.

"In general, an athlete should never try something before an important competition that they have not already tried in lesser competitions or practice," he said.

Jannini, the Italian researcher, says the effects of sex vary among athletes.

"Some personalities need more concentration. In this case sex may be a bad idea," he said.

"For other athletes a bit of extra aggression could be the difference" between winning and losing, Jannini said. "In this case I would suggest a complete and satisfactory sexual intercourse the evening before the game."