Spyros Louis, with a handsome handlebar moustache
Historically it was right that a Greek athlete should win the modern marathon. After all, the original marathon occurred in 490 BC when Phidippides was supposed to have run down from the plain of Marathon to Athens, telling Athenians that the Persians had been defeated. Apparently 80,000 Greek spectators were beyond delighted when one of their own won at the 1896 games, the only event the Greeks won that year. Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George rushed towards the athlete, put their arms around the victor’s exhausted body and helped him into the dressing-room in the tunnel.
Spyros Louis was presented with a beautiful silver cup engraved in Greek, a silver medal, an antique vase, an olive branch and a diploma by Greece's King George I for his Athens victory. Needless to say, Spyros Louis was turned into a national hero; honours and gifts were heaped on him, daughters were offered to him in marriage and later the modern Olympic stadium in Athens was named after him. That he was a very handsome man in his early 20s did nothing to damage his newly acquired fame.
But it is the Michel Bréal Cup, named after the Frenchman who wanted a marathon at the first of the modern Games, that I am most interested in. This cup, only 15 cm high, was given to Christie’s in London by the winner’s grandson and was sold at a London auction just three months before the 2012 Summer Games in London. Christie’s also offered other 179 items in the same sale, including eight original Olympic torches dating from 1936-96 and 26 original posters advertising Olympic Games between 1908-64.
Michel Bréal Cup, won by Spyros Louis
Olympic Games, Athens, 1896
Should I add a paragraph on what happened to Spyros Louis' last moment of fame? In 1936 he was invited to be a guest of honour at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. After carrying the Greek team's flag during the opening ceremony, he had a personal audience with Adolf Hitler. Presumably Louis offered the German dictator an olive branch of peace from Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, in good faith.