Second to the Ancient Olympics were the Isthmian Games. These Games were held near the “boomtown” city of Corinth. It is a misunderstanding to say that athletes were casual and competed for the fun of it. In 564 BC, Arrhichion was caught in a lethal ladder hold and was expiring from asphyxiation. Inspired by a shout from his coach, Arrhichion managed to roll over and savagely twist his opponent’s foot. The opponent raised his finger of surrender (giving Arrhichion the victory) just as Arrhichion died!
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
Paul exhorts the people of Corinth (and us some millennia later) to run in such a way as to win the prize. He knew that the Christian life can be painful involving discipline, training, frustration from setbacks and even death, similar to that of athletes. (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).
To Paul, aspiring to and striving after the prize was the ultimate aim.