The Marble-Slab Starting Line

Chapter 1 – page 1: The young man curled his toes into the marble grooves of the starting slab. He tensed his naked body into the required standing position. Glistening with olive oil and sprinkled with fine sand, he waited . . .

A marble slab with two side-by-side deep grooves about seven inches apart, formed the starting line for all footraces in ancient Greek stadiums. The runners lined up, about 20 at a time. At the signal from a judge, they curled their toes into the grooves, one foot forward, the other back. Rather than crouching as in modern races, the contestants stood and leaned slightly forward with their arms outstretched.

A rope stretched chest high across the runners, held by a spring-loaded mechanism at each end to form the starting gate. An official released the taut rope with a trigger that banged it to the ground as another official called out the word ápete! The runners then sprang forward to race to the finish.

Ancient marble slab starting line as seen today


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