Thursday Trivia: Spyridon Louis

Spiridon Louis, 1896 Olympic marathon champion

Spyridon Louis, Greek sports legend/sharp dresser. (Image via Wikipedia.)

This is a departure from the usual ThursTriv format; instead of five facts about a certain topic, here’s one of my favorite Olympic stories.

Also, a reminder that the Thursday Trivia Podcast returns next week with five questions on Nintendo.

In 1896, when the Olympic Games were revived where they were born in Athens, the marathon was born (or, in a sense, reborn, following in the footsteps of Phidippides running from Marathon to Athens relaying the news of the Greeks’ victory in the Battle of Marathon – for the record, he died almost immediately after giving the word). After victories in the other track and field events by foreigners, the Greek people longed for one of their own to win the marathon.

Enter Spyridon Louis, who transported mineral water with his father outside of Athens. After coming in fifth in the second qualifying race, he competed in the official race and ran his way into Olympic history and Greek lexicon.

With 13 Greeks and four foreigners, it was in all likelihood that a native countryman would win, but much of the race featured a Frenchman, Albin Lermousioux, in first, and an Australian, Edwin Flack, in second. After having an orange and a glass of wine midway through the race, Louis boasted that he would be victorious, and soon after, Lermousioux left the race. Flack, who had won gold already in Athens in the 800 and 1500 meter races, was not used to running the long distance of (then) 26 miles (the .2 wouldn’t come until the London games of 1908, when the race was extended so it would end in front of the royal box), putting Louis in first.

The crowd assembled in the stadium was at first notified that Flack was in the lead, but over time word spread that Louis had overtaken first, and as he entered the arena, he was received with boisterous applause. For the final few meters, Prince Consantine and Prince George came to greet him and run with him until the finish, which he reached with a time of 2:58.

For his efforts, Louis was showered with gifts (King George of Greece offered him whatever he wished for in honor of his victory – and he accepted only a donkey-drawn carriage for his mineral water business), but rarely appeared in the public eye. His last public appearance was at the Berlin Games of 1936, but his legacy remains in Greece and in Olympic lore today: the main stadium in which the 2004 Games were held was named “Olympic Stadium Spiros Louis,” and the Greek phrase Γίνομαι Λούης, “to become Louis,” means to run very fast.


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