Athens 1896: the invention of the marathon

The marathon owes its existence to Frenchman Michel BRÉAL, who suggested the idea to his friend Pierre de COUBERTIN in June 1894. Two years later, the race was first introduced at the inaugural Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

Portrait de Michel Bréal by CCThe Olympic Museum

Michel Jules Alfred BRÉAL

Michel BRÉAL (1832-1915), a renowned French intellectual of the time, played a significant role in the revival of the Olympic Games during the 1890s. His publications ranged from philology and Greek mythology to the teaching of ancient languages and French educational policies.

Lettre à Pierre de Coubertin (1894-09-15) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

Letter to Pierre de COUBERTIN

BRÉAL urged Pierre de COUBERTIN: "If you go to Athens, you could try and see if a long distance run from Marathon to Pnyx could be organised. That would emphasise the character of Antiquity... I personally claim the honour of sponsoring the marathon trophy"

Le soldat de Marathon by CCThe Olympic Museum

Inspiration from the Soldier of Marathon

The event is inspired by the legend of the Greek messenger PHILIPPIDES who, in 490 BC, is said to have run from the city of Marathon to Athens – about 42 kilometres – to announce victory against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon.

Histoire du marathon depuis la Grèce antique (Magazine Olympique no 202) (2010) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

The history of the marathon since ancient Greece

La coupe Bréal pour les vainqueurs (1896) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

The BRÉAL Cup for winners

The Bréal Cup is made of pure silver , measures 15 cm and bears the following Greek inscription : "Olympic Games 1896. Marathon trophy donated by Michel BRÉAL." The relief decoration depicts birds and aquatic plants from the marshes of Marathon.

Exposition temporaire "La Coupe Bréal: une icône de l'histoire olympique", Musée Olympique Lausanne, 09/09/2014-28/02/2015 (2014) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum

The cup on display at the Olympic Museum

The Bréal Cup stayed in Spiridon LOUIS' family from 1896 to 2012. The trophy resurfaced in April 2012 thanks to the  Stávros NIARCHOS Foundation, which acquired the cup in an auction organised by Christie's.

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