Arguing over the basketball GOAT has become a long standing tradition in today’s sports culture. Is it MJ? Is it LeBron? Look, whenever two legends emerge it’s natural to debate who the greatest of all time was. It’s a hot button debate, but it’s difficult to pick a clear cut winner because we’re comparing two players from different eras and styles of basketball.
However, long before Michael Jordan and LeBron James, two men dominated the ancient Olympic sport of the trumpet contest. All this talk about the basketball GOAT over the past few years has overshadowed one of the best sports debates mankind has ever had and it’s about time we address it.
The trumpet contest was the ultimate athletic test where scoring was based on the clarity and audibility of the horn blast. Many stepped into the arena for a shot at the Olympic gold. Some won. A few dominated, but none more so than the two legends of the game. Herodorus of Megara and Diogenes of Ephesus.
First, there’s the argument for Herodorus as the GOAT.
Herodorus dominated the scene from 328 to 292 BC, winning ten times in ten Olympic appearances. Quite simply, he was a dominant presence who was known for blaring the hell out of his trumpet. The Dictionary of Greece and Rome summed up his game by saying he was “noted particularly for his size and voracity.” A true legend.
The one knock against Herodorus is that he may have played in an era with weaker competition. Like Wilt Chamberlain on the basketball court, Herodorus dominated an earlier time in the game where others just couldn’t match up with his trumpet size. It’s hard to scoff at 36 years of voracious trumpet playing at an elite level though. With such a bruising style of play, his prime lasted far longer than expected and he remained at elite levels across three and a half decades. Lastly, you can’t argue with the results. Ten titles in the trumpet contest remains the Olympic record to this day.
A little over 300 years later, with the trumpet contest clearly at a crossroads, another all-time great emerged in the sport’s time of need. Emerging victorious for the first time in 69 AD (very nice), Diogenes was truly a player built for the modern game. His trumpeting contrasted Herdorus’ voracity and he relied more on the clarity that the modern game had moved to around the mid-100s BC.
Using that rare blend of clarity and audible playing was unlike anything that the trumpet game had seen and the results clearly spoke for themselves. He went on to dominate across five straight Olympic games – winning every content between 69 and 85 AD when competition was at it’s highest level of all time.
While Herodorus has more titles, the game changed and the trumpet players were bigger and faster in Diogenes’ era. Five wins was a hell of an accomplishment that put him squarely in the GOAT conversation. Herodorus paved the way, but Diogenes took the torch and ran with it over that 17 year span of domination. He was so dominant in fact, that after his last win in 86 AD, the trumpet contest was removed from the Olympic games forever. It’s hard to say how many career wins Diogenese would have if the game wasn’t abruptly taken away from him. A prime cut short. Tragic.
Team Herodorus and Team Diogenese have never seen eye to eye on this debate, but if the two sides can agree of anything it’s this – these two greats were the best to ever do it and we’ll probably never see anything like this in the trumpet game again.