Monument celebrates spirit of the marathon

The men’s marathon race which takes place on Sunday will be an apt culmination of the Olympic Games, with its historical symbolism and celebration of endurance and solidarity. Established as an athletic contest to commemorate the legend of Pheidippides, who allegedly ran from Marathon to Athens to carry the news of the Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, this 42.195-kilometer (26.2-mile) race is a tribute to Greek history and its heroes. In the history of modern Greece, the marathon race also gave birth to its own heroes, athletes with the vision and will to make a distinctive contribution to their country. It is nowadays impossible to think of the marathon race without bringing to mind the figure of Spyridon Louis, the Greek marathon victor in the first Olympic Games of 1896, and of Stelios Kyriakides, a patriot and winner of the 50th Boston Marathon of 1946, a man whose story is perhaps less well-known than that of Louis but plays as big a part in Greek sports history. Both marathon runners receive their tribute in «The Spirit of the Marathon,» a roughly 4-meter-high sculpture that was especially made for the Athens 2004 Games and installed in early August at the village of Marathon. A gift from Boston’s New Balance athletic wear and shoe company (Greek-American Jim Davis is the owner) to the village of Marathon, the sculpture was made by Massachusetts artist Mico Kaufman and cost 250,000 dollars. The original idea for making a sculpture on these two figures was conceived by former Boston reporter Andy Dabilis and Nick Tsiotis, authors of a book on Kyriakides. The statue idea was taken over by their agent Susan Julian Gates, who successfully ensured it got to Greece on time. Rising high on the tip of a bronze, rock-like formation on which the artist has sculpted the figures Pheidippides and the god Pan – who, according to legend, appeared to Pheidippides while he was running toward Athens from Sparta – the lean, life-sized figures of Louis and Kyriakides are shown looking out in the distance and caught in motion; Louis is holding Kyriakides by the hand and showing him the way. Eighty-year-old artist Mico Kaufman told Kathimerini English Edition that the commission was a dream come true but that the five-month time period in which he had to finish the project posed considerable difficulty. Louis met Kyriakides but did not live to see him run in the legendary race of the 1946 Boston Marathon. He died in 1940, five years after the tribute that was paid to him in the 1935 Berlin Olympic Games. Louis, a relatively uneducated man from a poor background, was the first Greek to win in the first modern Olympic Games. His victory was both an athletic and symbolic triumph for it marked the beginning of the modern Olympics and their return to their homeland. Although Kyriakides’s victory was not at the Olympic Games, it also had great symbolic value. Driven by patriotic sentiment, Kyriakides decided to take part in the marathon in the hope that his victory would turn international attention to his homeland Greece (he was born in Cyprus) and garner financial help and medicine to aid his war-ravaged compatriots. Kyriakides, who had narrowly escaped execution during World War II during the Nazi occupation of Greece, was emaciated and in too feeble a condition to run at the marathon. Despite doctors’ advice not to participate, he went ahead with his project, spurred by his patriotic convictions. His victory redeemed him and Kyriakides was met by an enthusiastic crowd back home. «The Spirit of the Marathon» honors his vision and resolution together with the great contribution of Spyros Louis, «father» of the marathon. It is a monument that serves as a valuable reminder of the spirit of sports, not just in the athletic sense but in a broader way that harks back to ancient Greece and ties in with notions of morality and human values.

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