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Spyros Louis Cup is displayed at the Acropolis Museum

29 August 2012 / 18:08:31  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The cup awarded to the marathon race winner at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 will be on display at the museum of the Acropolis for one-year period starting today. Spyros Louis Cup is displayed at the ground floor of the museum, before the exhibition, and it is not necessary to buy a ticket to see it.
A few months ago, the Olympian’s grandson who bears the same name offered the precious family relic for sale at the auction house Christie’s in London due to financial difficulties. The news prompted public responses then and the municipality in the suburb of Maroussi – the birthplace of Spyros Louis, launched a campaign to raise money to buy it.
A day after the controversial auction, the charitable foundation founded by the famous Greek ship-owner Stavros Niarchos announced it has bought the cup against an amount slightly exceeding 600 000 euro.
"Spyros Louis Cup is part of Greek history and culture. Through the exhibition, our Foundation aims at presenting its symbolism and Greek spirit worldwide. Therefore, we invite everyone to visit the Acropolis Museum and to admire one of the greatest works of modern Olympic Games close and be inspired by its symbolism: the competition, the victory and eventually hope for a better future," the head of the Foundation Board Andreas Drakopoulos said.
Spyros Louis Cup is unique not only because it is the only prize of its kind ever awarded at the Olympic Games. In fact, the man who gave the idea of the revival of the Olympic Games - French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, introduced for the first modern Olympic Games the rule of rewarding the winners with a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma. Gold medals were introduced later.
The cup was awarded to the winner of the marathon race, which was not in the list of sports initially. The idea of establishing the most emblematic discipline in the Olympic Games belonged to the French intellectual Michel Breal, who persuaded his friend Pierre de Coubertin to realize it.
Breal's idea was inspired by the myth that in 496 BC, Pheidippides ran the distance from Marathon to Athens, i.e. approximately 42 km, to report the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. When he arrived, he called "Victory" and died from exhaustion. Herodotus - the main source of information about the Greco-Persian Wars, mentioned Pheidippides as the messenger sent by the Athenians to Sparta to ask for help. For this purpose, he travelled 250 km to get there and go back. But Herodotus did not say anything of a messenger sent from Marathon to Athens. He indicated that the Athenians had returned to the city that day to protect it from a possible attack by the Persian fleet.
Nevertheless, the significance of the Battle of Marathon continued to grow from a historical perspective, but also due to its symbolism. The leading version among researchers of the classical period of ancient Greece is that the victory of the Greeks did not mean that Athens had won the war, but that it was part of a series of developments that led to the elimination of the Persian threat.
The myth of Pheidippides reappeared in the early 19th century and inspired sculptors and poets. Michel Breal was fascinated by the idea of ​​a marathon race and Pierre de Coubertin accepted it, although it was very difficult to organize it at that time. The place of the final was changed for this purpose. The original idea of Michel Breal was that marathon runners should finish at Pnika hill at the foot of the Acropolis, where Pheidippides had come to inform the meeting of Athenians, according to the myth. But for objective reasons, the organizers of the first modern Olympic Games decided that the final should be on the last day of the Olympic Games at the Ancient Olympic Stadium Kallimarmaro.
Breal’s Cup is small; its height is 15 cm. It is made of silver and plants, birds and insects that remind us of the swamps near Marathon are engraved on it as well as the following inscription in Greek:
"Olympic Games
1896
Marathon
Donated by Michel Breal"
The news of introducing a discipline, which connected the Greeks of that time directly with their historic past sparked a great interest. Dozens of young people enrolled for participation in the two preliminary races in order to ensure participation in the Olympic Games. 35 out of 85 persons took part in the marathon race. A carrier of water from the village of Maroussi, Spyros Louis, unknown to anyone at that time, ranked fifth. This gave hope to the Greeks, however, that they could win in a discipline so closely related to their history, since they knew that their athletes had no chance against the well-trained Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen.
The first marathon race took place on 10 April 1896 (22 March in the old calendar). Spyros Louis was keeping his strength during most of the running. He was fifth to the 32nd km and then began taking the lead. He headed the group three kilometres before the finish and finished with a time of 2:58:50. Upon entering the stadium, the news that the winner was a Greek had already reached the stands. The excited princes carried the first marathoner in their arms to take him to the king, who greeted him.
Michel Breal himself did not have the opportunity to attend the awarding ceremony, but wrote in a letter to Dimitrios Vikelas -a member of the organizing committee of the Olympic Games, that he proclaimed the future winner a bearer of classic Greek tradition, regardless of his or her nationality.

Tags: Spyros LouisMarathon raceCupFirst modern Olympic GamesStavros Niarchos Foundation
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