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Athletics at the 1896 Athina Summer Games:

Men's Marathon

Athletics at the 1896 Summer Games: Next Summer Games

Events:
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Host City: Athina, Greece
Venue(s): Panathenaic Stadium, Athina
Date Started: April 10, 1896
Date Finished: April 10, 1896
Format: circa 40,000 metres (24.85 miles) point-to-point.

Gold: GRE Spyros Louis
Silver: GRE Kharilaos Vasilakos
Bronze: HUN Gyula Kellner

Summary

Prior to 1896, although distance running was popular as pedestrianism, a marathon-distance race had never been formally run. The origin of the modern marathon lies in the ancient legend of a Greek courier, normally seen as Pheidippides, but more likely actually Philippides. The primary source for the legend is the Greek historian Herodotus, who recorded the verbal history of men who had fought in the ancient battle of Marathon.

According to Herodotus, Philippides was sent to Sparta from Athens asking for help in the battle. After the battle, a runner, whose name was Pheidippides per Lucian and Eucles per Plutarch, was sent to Marathon from Athens to tell of the victory. Further details are sketchy, though modern legend has Pheidippides arriving in Athens to tell of victory in the battle with the words, "Rejoice, we conquer", and then dying from his effort. There is little ancient documentary evidence to support that part of the tale.

The modern marathon was suggested by the Frenchman, Michael Bréal, a friend of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who accompanied Coubertin to Athens in planning the 1896 Olympics. Bréal wrote Coubertin thusly, "If the Organizing Committee of the Athens Olympics would be willing to revive the famous run of the Marathon soldier as part of the program of the Games, I would be glad to offer a prize for this new Marathon race." The idea was immediately accepted.

The marathon race was held on 10 April 1896, starting in the village of Marathon, with the runners covering the dusty dirt roads to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometres. There were 17 starters, of whom 12 were Greek and 5 foreign. The race started at 1400 hours when Colonel Papadiamantopoulos fired the starter's pistol.

The leader for the first 20 km. was Albin Lermusiaux of France. At about this time, the heat, the uphill grade, and the dusty roads began to take their toll, and runners began to withdraw from the race. At the halfway mark, Greece's Spyridon Louis was in sixth place, trailing Lermusiaux, Teddy Flack (AUS), Arthur Blake (USA), Gyula Kellner (HUN), and the leading Greek, Georgios Lavrentis. Blake dropped out at 23 km. and the Greek favorite, Kharilaos Vasilakos, moved into third place.

Shortly thereafter, Lermusiaux tired and Flack took the lead. Lermusiaux would eventually retire at 32 km. At 32 km. Louis caught Flack and they ran together for about five kilometres. Louis finally dropped Flack near the village of Ambelokipi, and Flack dropped out on the outskirts of Athens.

At this time, various couriers who had negotiated the course on bicycles and horses entered the Panathenaic Stadium and informed the crowd of Louis' approach, announcing, "Hellene, Hellene!" (A Greek, a Greek!) Louis then entered the stadium, and Crown Prince Nicholas and Prince Georgios accompanied him on his last circuit. He finished and won in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Vasilakos was 2nd in 3-06:03, trailed by Kellner in 3-09:35. Greece's Spyridon Belokas was the original third-place finisher in 3-06:30 but, following a Hungarian protest, he was disqualified when it was found he had taken a carriage for a short part of the race. Ten runners finished, nine Greeks (including Belokas), and Kellner.

Final Standings

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal T
1 Spyros Louis 23 Greece GRE Gold 2-58:50
2 Kharilaos Vasilakos Greece GRE Silver 3-06:03
3 Gyula Kellner 24 Hungary HUN Bronze 3-06:35
4 Ioannis Vrettos Greece GRE
5 Eleftherios Papasymeon Greece GRE
6 Dimitrios Deligiannis Greece GRE
7 Evangelos Gerakaris Greece GRE
8 Stamatios Masouris Greece GRE
9 Sokratis Lagoudakis Greece GRE
AC Teddy Flack 22 Australia AUS DNF
AC Albin Lermusiaux 21 France FRA DNF
AC Georgios Lavrentis Greece GRE DNF
AC Georgios Grigoriou Greece GRE DNF
AC Arthur C. Blake 24 United States USA DNF
AC Ilias Kafetzis Greece GRE DNF
AC Dimitrios Khristopoulos Greece GRE DNF
AC Spyridon Belokas Greece GRE [3-06:30] DQ