Wednesday, 5 October 2011

1896 - Athens - The birth of the modern Olympics.

Colonel Papadiamantopoulos gave the starting signal for the marathon field, the first marathon held since the days of Ancient Greece.

Off went thirteen Greek competitors, among them Spiridon Louis, and four from other nations. The early leader was Albin Lermusiaux of France, who had earlier placed third in the 1500 metres. In the town of Pikermi, Louis made a stop at a local inn to drink a glass of wine, though his grandson (also called Spiridon Louis) claims that he had half an orange and a glass of cognac.

After 32 km, Lermusiaux was exhausted, and had to abandon the race after a collapse. The lead was taken by Edwin Flack, an Australian runner who had already taken the Olympic 800 and 1500m titles. Louis closed in on Flack and the Australian, not used to running long distances, collapsed a few kilometers onwards, giving Louis the lead.

When Louis arrived the stadium erupted with joy, two Greek princes – Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George – rushed to meet him and accompanied him on his final lap, fuelling him along the way with wine, milk, beer, an Easter egg and some orange juice.

Adding to the celebrations, two more Greek runners entered the stadium to a complete a triumphant 1-2-3. Third place finisher Spiridon Belokas was later found to have covered part of the course by carriage and was disqualified.

After his victory, Louis received rich gifts and prizes ranging from jewelry to a horse and a life-long free shave. He retreated to his hometown, never again competing in running. He lived a quiet life, working as a farmer, and later as a local police officer.

And so it began, the Olympics as we know it today.

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