According to the Olympic Movement’s modern conception, ancient Greece is interpreted as a source of ideas which are projected on today’s present in order to confirm, on the one hand, the link between ancient and modern sport and, on the other, as a field of reference on the ideas and values of a sacred past. The concepts of kalokagathia (beautiful and virtuous), fair play and beauty were the prominent element of the ancient sporting spirit. The famous admonition of Peleas to his son Achilles and of Hippolochus to his son Glaucus before they left for Troy “forever excelling and prevailing over all others” determines the attitude of the ancient Greeks towards life and ideals.
The purpose of exercise in Antiquity was to build “beautiful and virtuous citizens” and “perfect men” who would offer their services to the city that had given them prominence. Sport in ancient times was not an end in itself but a lifelong education. The gymnasia and the palestras gradually evolved into general education institutions whose aim was to ensure the overall education of youth. At the same time, the spirit of competition and emulation that prevailed in the sports arena impregnated all the activities of the ancient Greeks and the great achievements of sport and civilization were the result of the predominance of the competition spirit.
The objective of competition was to lead man to physical and mental fulfillment. During Antiquity, athletes were considered as ideal models of beauty, health and strength. Nudity in ancient times was connected to physical exercise and gave its name to gymnastics and to the place where exercise was practiced, i.e. the Gymnasium. Nudity represented a major element for ancient art, sculpture in particular. Artists studied the well-trained naked bodies of the athletes, which they considered as ideal models of beauty.
Ancient Greek society converted simple exercise into a supreme physical, mental and cultural activity and created the type of citizen-athlete who left his mark on ancient civilization. The spirit of ancient sport never ceased to inspire the modern Olympic Movement, which is looking for ideological and spiritual connections with Antiquity through the paths of mythology, history and archaeological sites and monuments.