In 1896, Spyridon Louis marked the history of Greek sport. He won the first marathon of the modern Olympic Games in Athens.
Spyridon Louis (Σπυρίδων Λούης) was born in the city of Marousi, north of Athens, on January 12, 1873.
His father sold mineral water in Athens, which at the time lacked a central water supply, and Spyridon helped him by transporting it. He was a “water carrier”.
After Pierre de Coubertin’s decision in 1894 to relaunch the Olympic Games, preparations were made to organize the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. One of the races would be the marathon, an event that had never happened before.
The Greeks were very excited about this new event and decided to organize qualifying for the marathon. These races were organized by Colonel Papadiamantopoulos, under whom Louis had previously served in the army.
Papadiamantopoulos, who knew Louis’ talent in running, convinced him to give it a try. He took part in the second qualifying race and placed fifth.
On April 6, 1896, the Olympic Games, a long lost tradition of ancient Greece, were reborn in Athens.
The Olympic marathon was run on April 10, 1896.
In the marathon, Colonel Papadiamantopoulos started the small peloton, made up of thirteen athletes from Greece and four from other nations.
The lead was taken by Edwin Flack, an Australian runner already victorious in the 800 and 1500 meters Olympic. Spyridon slowly moved closer to Flack. The Australian, not used to running long distances, collapsed from exhaustion.
As Spyridon entered the Panathenaic Stadium for his final lap, he was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation – “Hellene, Hellene!”
Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George of Greece joined him in the final round.
Spyridon won the race by over seven minutes, clocking 2:58:50. He was celebrated as a national hero.
After the Olympics, Spyridon ended his athletic career to become a farmer and a police officer.
He has also made appearances in multiple sporting events, always applauded with admiration.
On August 1, 1936, he invited Hitler to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Berlin. Spyridon attended the ceremony and allegedly offered him an olive branch from Olympia, cradle of the Olympic Games, as a symbol of peace.
Forty years later, Spyridon remembers the moments after his victory: “That hour was something unimaginable and it still appears in my memory like a dream… Twigs and flowers were raining down on me. Everyone was shouting my name and throwing their hats in the air … “
On March 26, 1940, Spyridon Louis died in Maroussi.
In Greece, various sports establishments bear the name of Spyridon Louis. These include the Athens Olympic Stadium, where the 2004 Summer Olympics were held, as well as the road outside the stadium.