Marathon, today known as Marathónas, is an ancient Greek town situated on the Attica, 40 kilometres North East of Athens. In 490 B.C., the Athenians, driven by Miltiade and helped by a battalion of Platonians, won a famous military victory which put an end to the first Median war. Tradition holds that, in order to reassure his fellow citizens, Miltiade sent a messenger, the soldier Philippidès, who ran the distance with such haste that he died of exhaustion upon arrival. It is to celebrate his heroism that the marathon competition was created.
The origin of the Olympic Games is linked to the religious fervour that the large cities of ancient Greece displayed for Zeus, the King of Olympia, during festivals given in his honour. It is in Olympia, from 776 B.C., that, every four years, sporting competitions were run (Agônes). A real institution in ancient times, the Olympian assembly lasted more than a thousand years. However, it progressively lost its religious connotations and disappeared in the year 394 A.D., banned by the Emperor Théodose the Ist, who saw it as a symbol of paganism.
Modern Olympic Games
It was only at the end of the XIXth Century, at a time when sport was rapidly developing, that the Olympic Games were restored, according to the wishes of Pierre de Coubertin, President of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) from 1896 to 1925. The first modern Games were organised in Athens in 1896: the Greek shepherd Spiridon Louys won the first Olympic Marathon. The Olympic history of the Marathon is punctuated with legendary exploits: in 1908, the Italian Dorando Pietri collapsed in the stadium at the finish of the London Olympic Games: supported by officials who helped him to cross the finishing line, he was disqualified; in 1956, the Frenchman Alain Mimoun, in his first race over such a distance, won in the Melbourne Olympic Games; in 1960 in Rome, the Ethiopian, Abebe Bikila, ran barefoot and won; he won again in Tokyo in 1964.
Running, a sport for everyone
The marathon expanded particularly in the 1970's with the creation of mass competitions including both specialists and amateurs. The most famous are the New York and Paris marathons, created under their current form of mass competitions in 1976.
1896: the first Paris marathon
On Sunday the 19th of July 1896, there was a big crowd at porte Maillot for the first French marathon, which brought together 191 participants. For this first French marathon, run over the 40 km separating Paris from Conflans, the organisers, the Petit Journal, decided to award a commemorative medal to all runners who finished the race in under 4 hours. Why 40 kilometres? Simply because this was the distance separating Marathon from Athens; the current distance of the competition (42,195 km) is simply that of the London Olympic marathon (1908).
After a 2h31'30'' race, and cheered on by 2.000 spectators, the British man Len Hurst crossed the finishing line traced out on the Conflans bridge. After a brief moment in the arms of his coach Boon, he regained all his strength in order to receive the 200 francs from the Petit Journal