BBC News : Death before defeat in the ancient games

Here is an extremely interesting article about ancient Olympic Games, which took place from 776BC to 393AD, when Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius prohibited them for being too "pagan".

Here are just a few highlights but you should really read the whole article.

Competitors in the brutal pankration, where choking, finger breaking and blows to the genitals were all permitted, were particularly vulnerable, often succumbing to their wounds days after the games had ended.
Although the only prize on offer at Olympia was an olive wreath, it is known that victors commonly received other more lucrative rewards when returning to their home city. In 600BC Athenian Olympic victors could expect a cash prize of 500 drachmas from the city, the equivalent of $300,000 today.
Athletes received precious gifts, free meals and even made appearances for cash. Such benefits, in tandem with fame and adulation that bordered on worship, unsurprisingly fuelled the desire to win at all costs and athletes were not above cheating to do so.
False starts and illegal manoeuvres were punished with public floggings and expulsion from the games. By the fourth century athletes caught lying, cheating or involved in bribery were also fined and the money used to erect a statue to Zeus along the route to the stadium - an everlasting testament to their shame.
The Olympics seemed undeniably more exciting for spectators in the Antiquity.

The clash between the lofty ideals of the Olympics and political acts or commercialism is a mark of both the ancient and modern games, but perhaps the element that most closely links the two is the pursuit of what the Greeks called arete, or excellence.

This is a pursuit understood by ancient and modern Olympians alike, encapsulated in the motto of the games today: "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - the desire to go faster, go higher and be stronger than anyone before.

In one of his celebrated speeches the Greek orator Aeschines asked why any man would be willing to compete at the Olympics in an event like the pankration.

The answer? "Because of the competition and the honour, and the undying fame that victory brings, men are willing to risk their bodies, and at the cost of the most severe discipline to carry the struggle to the end."