The twelfth Asterix book was published in an Olympic year, 1968, and so the stage was set for Goscinny and Uderzo to poke fun at the world of competitive sport.
The Roman camp of Aquarium are in high spirits, as their own legionary Gluteus Maximus has been chosen to take part in the Olympic games for Rome. Centurion Gaius Veriambitius hopes that by bringing back a Palm of Victory, they'll receive rewards from Caesar. Maximus goes out to train in the forest, and bumps into Asterix and Obelix. The Gauls' potion-powered antics put Maximus off his stride, sending the legionary into a depression. Veriambitius goes to the Gaulish village to complain about these unprovoked attacks, but all this accomplishes is inspiring the Gauls to take part in the Olympics themselves. Even pointing out that the only outsiders allowed to compete are Romans doesn't stop them; Gaul is part of the Roman Empire, isn't it?
A qualifying race proves indecisive as all competitors are tanked up on magic potion and finish together, so the chosen athletes are Asterix (for giving the Gauls the idea to compete in the Olympics) and Obelix (because of his strength). The men of the village take a boat to Greece in high spirits - once they get over discovering that the reason passage on the boat was so cheap is because they will be doing the rowing. They encounter Redbeard and his pirate band along the way, and the pirate captain decides he'd rather scuttle his own ship than face an entire village of Gauls - only for the Gauls to opt out of attacking the ship when the captain of their own vessel tries to charge them extra for the privilege!
With the Gauls' arrival, morale in the entire Roman delegation collapses completely, and they stop training and start eating rich food and getting drunk on a regular basis... which sits badly with the Greek athletes in the Olympic village, who find a Spartan diet far more difficult to stomach when the smell of a far more delicious alternative wafts through the room. However, when the Olympic magistrates lodge a formal complaint against the Romans and remark that performance-enhancing stimulants are strictly banned at the Games, Veriambitius realises this includes the magic potion, and the Romans resume their training after breaking the news to the Gauls. Vitalstatistix contemplates withdrawing from the Games, but Asterix insists on competing in the track events without the potion (Obelix, however, is forced to bow out thanks to the permanent effects of the potion after he fell into a cauldron of the stuff as a baby), and embarks on a more traditional training regimen.
At the Games, the Greek athletes sweep not just first place, but second and third place in every single event, as it becomes apparent that Asterix and the Romans — who are warriors first and foremost, with only a little athletic training — can't even begin to compete with the Greeks, who spend their entire lives training for these games. The Olympic Council, fearing the consequences for the country's tourism industry if yet another Games ends with the Romans failing to win even a single event (without income from tourism, their buildings would fall into ruin, and then who'd want to look at them?), creates a 'Roman only' foot race. Meanwhile, Asterix and Getafix launch their own plan; right next to the Romans, the two stage a loud conversation on where they're keeping a cauldron of magic potion and how unguarded it is. And the Romans are interested...
At the event, the Romans do well; superhumanly well, in fact, as they lap Asterix and all cross the finish line at exactly the same time. Getafix files a formal accusation of cheating against them, alleging that they are doped to the gills on magic potion. Asterix defiantly sticks out his tongue at the Romans, who respond by sticking out their tongues - which have all turned blue. Getafix reveals that blue food coloring was added to the cauldron, and with their cheating exposed, the Romans are disqualified. As the only athlete not to take magic potion, Asterix is declared the winner. The Gauls return to their village (though not before another encounter with the pirates, with the usual results) and have their feast, and Asterix confides to Getafix that he gave his Palm of Victory to someone with more need. In Rome, Gaius Veriambitius and Gluteus Maximus present the Palm of Victory and reap rewards from Caesar.
Note: This story marks the debut of the Gaulish village's oldest inhabitant, Geriatrix.
The comic book was adapted into a live-action film in 2008, with an All-Star Cast including Clovis Cornillac as Asterix, Gérard Depardieu reprising the role of Obelix from the previous films, Jean-Pierre Cassel as Getafix, Alain Delon as Julius Caesar, Benoît Poelvoorde as Brutus and many more.
- Adaptational Modesty: Based on real life anyway, where athletes in the ancient Olympics usually performed totally in the buff. Obviously this wasn't the kind of thing you could show in an Asterix comic and they all still wear shorts or loincloths.
- Badass Family: The athletes from Rhodes have an older brother who is stronger than them, and a mother who is stronger still.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: The pirates scuttle their own ship when they learn they are about to meet not just Asterix and Obelix, but a whole boat full of Gauls. They are not happy when the Gauls refrain from attacking them however.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: When he sees the Gauls celebrating that they're Romans (as in, part of the Roman Empire) and eligible to compete in the Olympics, all Centurion Gaius Veriambitius can say is, "These Romans are crazy!"
- Brick Joke: When Veriambitius insists on seeing Vitalstatistix even though he's bathing, the Gaul has his shieldbearers take him outside, tub and all. When Vitalstatistix later visits the Roman camp, Veriambitius deliberately returns the favor by greeting him in a bathtub, mistakenly believing it to be a Gaulish tradition.
- The Brute: The athletes from Rhodes are enormously strong but not very bright.
- Cheaters Never Prosper: Played with. Magic potion is prohibited (which comes as a surprise to the Gauls), and without it Asterix can't win any of the events. However, by tempting the other athletes to take some, he gets them disqualified and wins by default.
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Geriatrix says that he saw the Romans acting strangely while he was out picking mushrooms, and wonders what he should make of it. Everyone listening thinks that he's talking about the mushrooms, and starts suggesting recipes.
- When Obelix is informed that he is also disqualified from competing because he fell in a cauldron of magic potion, he fixates on the cauldron rather than the potion and thinks that he might be allowed to compete if they tell the judges that he fell in some other sort of container full of potion instead.
- Continuity Nod: When the Gauls are dining at Thermos' restaurant, Obelix asks Asterix if he remembers the restaurant near Lugdunum where they had "that delicious veal", a reference to Asterix and the Banquet (never mind that Obelix was annoyed to be served veal at the time, as he'd ordered boar- presumably once he got over his disappointment he liked it).
- Creator Cameo: Goscinny and Uderzo appear as part of a frieze behind the Greek officials when the Gauls are registering for the games; in their dialogue, they are calling each other "Despot" and "Tyrant".
- Dirty Old Man: Geriatrix is seen admiring the local beauties.
- Disqualification-Induced Victory: How Asterix ultimately wins a palm of victory.
- Every Episode Ending: Subverted; not only does the usual end-of-book banquet get a much smaller panel than the half page it gets in most other books, but Cacofonix is neither bound nor gagged, although he is sat next to a hammer-carrying Fulliautomatix and looking very nervous.
- Exact Words: The boat on which Vitalstatistix books passage to Greece promises one class only, deck games, open air sports, and marvellous atmosphere. The advert carefully omits that the "games" and "sport" involve rowing the boat to Greece (and that does mean there's only one class of accommodation), and the "atmosphere" is the drumbeat to keep the rowers on pace. The captain defiantly notes that this is a luxury liner by the usual standards of boats to Greece: no chains or whips!
- Flat Joy: The Spartans easily sweep the top three places in the opening foot race. So how do their fans in the crowd react?Spartan crowd members: [completely stone-faced] Sparta.
- Food Porn: When the Romans figure they're going to lose to the Gaul's magic potion, they lose all hope and party 24/7. When the smell of the sumptuous banquet reaches the Greek athletes, they revolt due to their, well, Spartan conditions.
- Funny Background Event:
- As Geriatrix is explaining to the village how oddly happy the Romans appear to be, Dogmatix can be seen trying to bite at a fleeing chicken.
- As the Greek athletes are training, one of them is holding a bent pilum and angrily yelling at another athlete while rubbing his own rear.
- Gratuitous English: The colossal and dim-witted athlete from Rhodes is named "Okéibos" (Okay boss) in the French version.
- Historical In-Joke: The Olympic Council fearing that their buildings would fall into ruin, and then nobody wants to look at them anymore. The joke being that the ruins of ancient Greece are actually still a huge tourist attraction these days.
- Hurricane of Puns: The sequence of athletic delegations entering the stadium is accompanied by a pun on each one (the Thermopylians came in single file, the Marathonians came running, Rhodes sent one representative, a colossus...).
- Hypocritical Humor: Vitalstatistix tells his men that they're representing Gaul in the stands, so some dignity is called for. Naturally, they're the most exuberant of the bunch. Vitalstatistix even calls out a stoic Greek for his lack of decorum (that is, saying "Sparta." when Asterix lost a race).
- I Let You Win: The Greeks athletes are all much better than the Gauls and Romans (who didn't train or stopped training), but in order to give the foreigners a chance to win a medal, the organizers host a foreigners-only race.
- Interrupted Bath: Chief Vitalstatistix is in his bath when Gaius Veriambitius comes to call. Unwilling to get out when he just got in, he has his bearers put the tub on the shield and carry him before the centurion. Gaius Veriambitius thinks this a Gallic custom, so when Vitalstatistix comes to the camp later, he finds the centurion ready to parley in his own tub.
- Loophole Abuse:
- Romans are the only non-Greeks allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. The Gauls get in by claiming that Caesar conquered all of Gaul, therefore they're Romans too.
- Later Defied: when the Gauls find out they can't take the magic potion for the duration of the Games and partecipate, Vitalstatistix is quick to note that Obelix could still compete because he never takes it, but Getafix decides to follow the spirit of the rules and keep Obelix out.
- Mama's Boy: As Neuroses, the colossus from Rhodes, effortlessly stomps his way to victory in the wrestling events, Vitalstatistix asks the colossus' brother if his whole family is like that. Oh no, says Neuroses' brother; their older brother is much stronger, but he couldn't compete in the Games, as their mother smacked him for misbehaving and he still hasn't fully recovered.
- Meaningful Name: Pugnatius, the Roman wrestler who challenges Asterix to a fight, disbelieving what he's heard about the Gaul's strength.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Subverted: the Gauls are absolutely flabbergasted to learn that they can't compete if they've taken magic potion. They decide that only Asterix will compete in the footrace.
- Reality Ensues: The Romans fail to win any competition because, between finding out Asterix and Obelix were in it and discovering the magic potion was forbidden, they stopped training and went for a few days of orgies, and couldn't get back in proper shape in time for the competition. At least they do better than Asterix, who is quick to note they're still fitter and better trained (and tall, and thus with longer legs, but Asterix doesn't mention it). Worth nothing that the story doesn't actually draw attention to this, with the strong implication that the Greek athletes are simply better anyway.
- Running Gag:
- Barely a page goes by when at least one Roman doesn't say either "Caesar will be pleased, won't he?" or "Caesar won't be pleased, will he?" in response to the latest turn of events. (In the end, he is pleased.)
- Gluteus Maximus's habit of doing some sweeping when he has a crisis of confidence. It develops into a full-scale broom obsession, and he even dreams of being awarded a golden broom.
- Sore Loser: Vitalstatistix and the others are quick to come up with ridiculous excuses for Asterix' repeated defeats in the competition (all copied from the ones the French came up to explain their athletes' poor performance in the 1968 Games). Averted with Asterix and Getafix, who note the Greeks and the Romans are simply better athletes, and Obelix, who's too busy complaining of the Greek laws against cauldrons to care either way.
- The Spartan Way: Subverted when the Romans give up and have luxurious banquets every day: the Spartan athletes get a sniff and say that sure, in Sparta they only ate olive pits and gristle, but their neighbors didn't gorge themselves all day long, and they start angrily demanding similar grand food to hell with whether or not this will negatively affect their performance in the games.
- Spit Take: Veriambitius has a massive one when the implications of Olympic magistrate Saintpancras' warning that performance-enhancing substances are strictly prohibited during the Games sink in: the Gauls cannot use the magic potion.
- The Stoic: Most of the Greek spectators at the Olympic Games (with the notable exception of the brother of Neuroses, the wrestler from Rhodes) watch the games in stony silence, in stark contrast to the Gauls loudly cheering Asterix on his way. When the Spartan runners sweep the wreaths in the first race, their fans react by laconically saying, "Sparta."
- Symbol Swearing: Vitalstatistix unleashes a torrent of this when he discovers that he and the other villagers will be doing the rowing for their journey to Greece.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: The ending; as the caption says, "For once, Caesar is pleased!" As are Gluteus Maximus and Centurion Veriambitius, who, after a booklong Humiliation Conga, receive their promotions after all.
- Vacation Episode: The entire Gaulish village, save for the women (whom Impedimenta decides to lead in tidying the village up a bit while the hooligan male villagers are away), travel to Hellas, aka Greece.
- The Voice: For some reason Julius Caesar is depicted this way in this story, since it's a pretty full book and there's not a lot of room left for the final panel showing the promotion ceremony.
- These Greeks are crazy!