Ancient Olympic Athletes - Vase detail

Champion American swimmer Michael Phelps has broken a 2000 year old Ancient Olympic record after competing in the Rio Olympics this week.

Phelps surpassed the individual title record held by Leonidas of Rhodes who competed from 164-152BC.

While Phelps has swum his way to victory, Leonidas was a famous runner according to 2nd Century AD author Pausanias. In his account of the Olympics – Statues of Olympic Victors, Pausanias writes:

“the most famous runner was Leonidas of Rhodes. He maintained his speed at its prime for four Olympiads, and won twelve victories for running.” (6.13.4)

Thirty-one-year-old Phelps, who came out of retirement 2 years ago, has competed at 5 consecutive Olympic Games across 5 events and has now won a staggering 24 gold medals, 13 of which are individual titles!

Phelps in action

For more fascinating accounts by Pausanias on the Ancient Olympics go to