Histoire du marathon de l'Antiquité à 1896 avec le premier vainqueur Spiridon Louis. (1996) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum
History of the marathon from Antiquity to 1896
The marathon race, approximately 40 km from Marathon to the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, was won by Greek athlete Spiridon LOUIS in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
LOUIS was born into a poor family in the town of Maroussi, Greece, on 12 January 1873. At the age of 23, during his military service, he was recognised for his remarkable endurance and qualified to participate in the prestigious Olympic marathon event.
Athènes 1896, le départ du marathon (1996) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum
The marathon – Athens 1896
There were a total of 17 participants at the start of the marathon ; 13 Greeks and four other nationalities. As the race unfolded, Spiridon LOUIS surged ahead and took the lead, four kilometres from the finish line. The police swiftly dispatched a messenger to spread the news: a Greek athlete was now in the lead!
The first 15 kilometres were relatively flat. This was followed by a climb, with an elevation gain of 200 metres, then by a descent. The final ascent culminated in an elevation gain of 50 metres between Marathon and Athens.
Athènes 1896, arrivée du vainqueur du marathon par JACOMB-HOOD, George Percy (1896) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum
The arrival of the marathon winner
When Spiridon LOUIS finally entered the magnificent Panathenaic Stadium, he was accompanied for his last lap by the Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George of Greece ; he finished the race in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Out of the 17 marathon competitors, only nine crossed the finish line.
The athletes' reward
The marathon winner, Spiridon LOUIS (wearing the traditional Greek fustanella), stands proudly with his medal and an olive branch alongside other Greek Olympic athletes awarded in the Panathenaic Stadium on 15 April 1896.
Moments of relaxation
Spiridon LOUIS, still dressed in traditional attire, among Greek athletes and officials during an excursion at Athens 1896.
Athènes 1896 - Spiridon Louis (GRE), 1er du marathon (1896) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum
A national hero
In many cities across the country, Spiridon LOUIS became a household name overnight. After his victory, he was offered a donkey-drawn cart by King George Ito assist him in his water-carrying activities.
Flag-bearer for the Greek delegation at the Olympic Games Berlin 1936
"It was an incredible moment, and even today, it feels like a dream. On that day (1 August 1936), it was raining branches and flowers from the sky. Everyone was chanting my name and throwing their hats in the air...".
He passed away four years later at the age of 67.
Berlin 1936 - appareil photographique modèle Billy-Clack 74, ayant appartenu à Gunnar Ibsen SØRENSEN (DEN) (2022) by Comité International Olympique (CIO)The Olympic Museum
The Spiridon effect
Many athletes were delighted to see Spiridon LOUIS at the Berlin Olympics. Gunnar Ibsen SØRENSEN, a Danish rower, saw LOUIS in the Olympic Village and asked him for an autograph on his camera case because he had no paper.
Spiridon LOUIS was the hero of the first Hollywood film made about the Athens Olympic Games in 1896. Filmed in 1959 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, the story revolves around the first Olympic marathon and the unlikely tale of the young shepherd.
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