108 years ago Spiridon Louis became a national Creek hero by winning the marathon in the Olympic Games. A lot of stories were written about his race from Marathon to Athens which then covered a distance of 40 kilometers. Since the 1908 Olympics in London the distance is 42,195K. This Sunday’s men’s Olympic marathon will be run on a similar course as 108 years ago, starting in Marathon and finishing in the classic Panathinaiko Stadium.
In the last few weeks a couple of more anecdotes were added to the story of Spiridon Louis. Because Spiridon Louis became a person much sought after by media. Of course we are not talking about the Olympic Champion, who died of a heart attack at the age of 67 in 1940. But Spiridon Louis is one of two grandsons of the Olympic Champion. He has been given the same first name. Nikolaus is the other grandson. Additionally five great grandsons of Spiridon Louis are alive.
Today Spiridon Louis lives in Maroussi. It is the same suburb of Athens where is grandfather came from. A statue in Maroussi reminds of the sole Greek Olympic marathon champion. The grandson could never meet his prominent granddad in person. Because he was born 16 days after the death of the Olympic Champion. But his father has told him all the stories about the family’s national hero. “I know that he was an unselfish person with a very strong character. But he was said to be obstinate. May be this character has helped him winning the marathon,” Spiridon Louis said in an interview with Takis Tsafos, the Greek news correspondent of the German news agency dpa.
Louis’ job was to transport fresh water to Athens. So he had a sort of daily endurance training. “He was a simple person and he did not know anything about sport,” his grandson explains and then gives an example: “After he had won the marathon his legs were to get a massage. But when he was touched he shouted: What are you doing? It is a disgrace. Let me out of here, I just want to go back to Maroussi to celebrate with my friends.”
It has often been reported that Spiridon Louis had a glass of wine during his marathon race. But this anecdote is wrong says the grandson, who had been an engineer before he retired. Instead Spiridon Louis said in an interview published in the Vienna paper “Kronen-Zeitung”: “His girlfriend gave him half an orange and shortly afterwards he got a glass of cognac from his future father in law. There were eye witnesses who have confirmed this a number of times.” That happened less than 10K from the finish.
Spiridon Louis says that there is quite some interest in the story of his grandfather from foreign media like Germany, Japan or the US. But in contrast there is little attention in Greece about his family and the background. Of course the Olympic Stadium, which is just a couple of miles away from Maroussi, carries the name of the marathon winner. And Louis’ marathon medal is being kept there. But when one of his great grandsons carried the Olympic torch two days before the Olympics began in Athens nothing was shown on TV. And Spiridon Louis said that he not even got an invitation for the Games by the Greek Olympic Committee.
The family never had any financial advantages in conjunction with the success of Spiridon Louis. Back in 1896 the marathon winner was granted one wish by the Greek king. But Spiridon Louis did not choose a house or an estate. Instead he opted for a horse and a cart for his business. “We have never made any money with the story of my grandfather. And I would not like to do so.”
No member of the family has ever run a marathon again after the Olympic race in 1896. “I had no opportunity to do sports when I was young. I was born during the war. And it was not easy in those times to settle in and build up your living,” Spiridon Louis says.
“But I am fascinated of athletics and especially of the marathon. If I see such a race I think about the different conditions. In contrast to former times it looks like luxury today. But I totally respect all marathon runners. If I could I would congratulate everyone personally. I have learnt that it is already an important step to just participate in such a race.”