For ancient Greek athletes, competing without clothes was a sign of having a truly civilized society. However, this was not always the case. The tradition of men competing in the nude during the Olympic Games is reported to have begun in 720 B.C., although there was some dispute over who the first nude athlete was.

The First Nude Olympian

An ancient inscription records that the first athlete to compete nude in the Olympics was a runner named Orsippos, who won the short sprint in the 15th Olympics held in 720 B.C. Orsippos began the race wearing the traditional athletic garment -- a perizoma, a type of loincloth held up by a band of fabric that went around the athlete's waist. The story goes that it fell off Orsippos while he was running, and after his victory it was decreed that athletes should henceforth compete naked.

The Spartan Claim

According to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, athletes from Sparta were the first to exercise naked. The practice eventually became the norm in Greek athletics, distinguishing Greeks from the uncivilized "barbaroi," or barbarians, of surrounding regions, who thought nudity was shameful. Not surprisingly, the Spartans claimed that the athlete who started the tradition of competing nude at the Olympics was one of their own, Akanthos, who raced nude and won the long race at the 720 B.C. Olympics.

The Victor's Crown

Although Olympic athletes stopped wearing clothes during the competition, the winners did have some adornment during the games. Victors continued to be given an olive wreath crown, the traditional prize since the fifth Olympics back in 752 B.C.