Prior to this, the hippodrome had only been known from written sources; archaeologists had failed to locate its actual site.
"This discovery is an archaeological sensation," said Professor Norbert Müller of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The research project extended over several weeks before being completed in the middle of May 2008.
German archaeologists have been continuously excavating the site of where the ancient olympiad was held since 1875; this research has become a tradition and innumerable archaeologists, historians, and sports historians from all over the world have been involved in trying to solve this secret for over a hundred years.
The research team included Professor Müller (a sports historian), Dr Christian Wacker (a sports archaeologist from Cologne) and PD Dr Reinhard Senff (chief excavator of the German Archaeological Institute - DAI.
This served as an additional incentive for the German researchers: Using modern geophysical methods, they systematically searched the area for the first time. The experts Armin Grubert (Mainz) and Christian Hübner (Freiburg), who specialize in the use of geomagnetic and georadar techniques, were able to map soil disturbances such as water courses, ditches, and walls. Conspicuous, rectilinear structures were indeed discovered along a stretch of almost 1200m. The researchers believe this to be the racecourse, which ran parallel to the stadium. Structural remains identified as the temple of Demeter that is known to have been sited near the hippodrome were discovered in the northern part of the area investigated in the spring of 2007.
Of particular interest is the fact that at the halfway point of the northern access to the starting-gates - where Pausanias describes entering the hippodrome - there is a circular arrangement with a diameter of about 10m, clearly marked in the ancient soil layer, which could be the remains of the sacred structure described here by the ancient writer. The actual starting-gates, with boxes for up to 24 teams of horses, are most probably located under a gigantic pile of earth excavated by the archaeologists investigating the temple area since 1875.
The investigation of the area east of the sanctuary of Olympia, made possible by the research funds provided by the Institute of Sports Science of the University of Mainz and the world's governing body for horse sports, the FEI, has produced the first concrete indications of the location of the racecourse and its geographical dimensions. Ten students were on hand to assist the sports historian Professor Norbert Müller, who is an authority on Olympia. "The DAI, with its branch in Athens, has done sports history a great service through its contribution," said Müller. "The project could become a new attraction for the sports world, similar to the excavation of the ancient Olympic stadium 50 years ago."
The area east of the sanctuary of Olympia had not been the subject of archaeological investigation before, although the ancient written sources show that this must have been the site of the largest construction, in area terms, built to host competitions.
According to Pausanias, the hippodrome lay south of the now researched and reconstructed stadium, and must now be several meters below the current level. It is only here, between the adjoining hills on the other side of the road to Arcadia in the north and the bed of the Alfeios River in the south (which has since been straightened) that the topology is suitable for the accommodation of a racecourse with a length of more than one kilometer.