Biomechanics

Halteres used in ancient Olympic long jump

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These athletes worked out for themselves the optimal size of hand-held weights.

Abstract

Halteres1 (αλτηρεζ) are hand-held weights that were first used in the standing long jump in the eighteenth ancient Olympiad in 708 bc, and may have been introduced either to make the challenge more difficult or to extend the jumping distance2. Here we use computer and experimental simulations to determine the optimal mass of halteres that would be needed to maximally extend a standing long jump, and find that this corresponds closely to the size range of actual archaeological specimens. These halteres were made of stone or lead and weighed 2–9 kg, which we calculate would increase a 3-metre jump by at least 17 cm, indicating that their purpose was to boost the performance of pentathletes. Halteres may therefore be the earliest passive tool that was devised to enhance human-powered locomotion.

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Figure 1: Use of halteres in the standing long jump.
Figure 2: Effects of the mass of hand-held loads on a jumper's take-off speed and maximal wrist height during the flight.

References

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    British Museum (GR 1837.6-9.83, GR 1867.5-6.48), London, UK; National Museum, Athens, Greece; Archaeological Museum, Olympia, Greece.

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    Beazley collection at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu

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    Aristotle Problemata 3, 705 a, 12–19.

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    Jüthner, J. Antike Turngeräthe (Vienna, 1896).

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Author information

Correspondence to Alberto E. Minetti.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Minetti, A., Ardigó, L. Halteres used in ancient Olympic long jump. Nature 420, 141–142 (2002) doi:10.1038/420141a

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