With the Olympics being avidly watched over the past couple of weeks, there may be some curiosity about what elite sports were like in the time between the original Greek games and the well-loved extravaganza of today. In other words, what would the Olympics have looked like in the Middle Ages?\n\nAlas, there were no medieval Olympics, but there were competitive sports. Perhaps the best-known events pitting athletes against each other were tournaments—lavish gatherings of trained knights who fought each other with various weapons to garner fame and fortune.\n\n\n\n These knights were not just performing superb athletics. They were also practicing skills that were integral to their lifestyle and livelihood. Learning how to fight with sword, dagger, and lance, on foot and on horseback, was aimed toward the day when a knight might be asked to take up arms in war on behalf of his lord.\n\n\n\n Some of these knights traveled from place to place across Europe looking to participate in tournaments, much as athletes today range the world for their meets. They could also become just as famous and crowd-pleasing as the icons of today, like Simone Biles or Usain Bolt. One example is Jacques de Lalaing (1421‒53), who never lost a tournament in the many he fought over the course of his career. In this image, he participates in a tournament where the agreed-upon weapon was the polaxe (a fighting ax with a hammer facing opposite the blade). He was so sure of himself, in fact, that he fought with armor on only one leg, essentially giving himself a “handicap” (he still won).\n\n\n\n And just as today, the coaches could become almost as famous as the athletes. Fencing master Fiore Furlan dei Liberi was as much revered in his time as someone like Marta Karolyi is in ours. This copy of his training manual was made for Nicolò d’ Este, ruler of Ferrara (in modern-day Italy), father of several sons who might well have benefited from the examples pictured. In the images, the master is depicted with a gold band around his leg, often getting the better of his unfortunate pupils.\n\n\n\n Many of the events we follow so enthusiastically today at the Olympics were also performed in the Middle Ages for fun or entertainment, including:\n\n### Rowing (more like bumper boats) ### Gymnastics (sadly, Prince William neglected to wear his crown while watching Olympic events in London) ### Javelin Throw (bonus points for doing it from the back of a horse) ### And Wrestling (with maybe a little judo thrown in?) For other sports, we might have to use a little imagination to create a medieval equivalent.\n\n### Armor Swimming (one has to wonder how many golds Michael Phelps would win in this version!) ### Dragon Archery (is spitting fire really legal on the opponent’s side?) ### Castle Weightlifting (in Samson’s case, the hair really does help) And my personal favorite...\n\n### Balance Beam Over Hellfire (although surely the start value would be less if you get your guardian angel to hold your hand) Which medieval Olympic event would you pick?