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ATHENS 2004

In Greece, Everyone Has a Spyro Story

August 22, 2004|From Associated Press

MARATHON, Greece — From dusty coffee shops to shiny KFCs, from high-rise apartments to rustic vineyards, it seems everyone along the route of the marathon has a story about the sport's first champion.

Passed along for decades by word of mouth, the tales are the stuff of legend, chronicling the triumph of Greece's first Olympic hero in 1896. Little of it appears to be true, but that doesn't make it any worse for the telling.

History tells us this: Spyridon Louis was a farmer finishing his military service when he signed up for the race at the last minute. He woke up after a night of drinking, downed milk and two beers and lined up to run. Louis paused at least twice along the route to fortify himself with wine, surging from five men back at the halfway mark to win in 2:58:50.

But as townspeople tell it, there is so much more to the story.

Lefteris Mavrikos, a 70-year-old retired farmer in the town of Nea Makri, said he heard Louis never even signed up for the race.

"I don't know much, but the story is he was a shepherd with his sheep and he started running and beat everyone," he said.

Yannis Politis, an 87-year-old farmer in Marathon, said he has heard the stories "since I was a young boy."

"Legend has it that when he reached the finish line, they asked him, 'What do you want?' and he said, 'I want you to release my brother from prison,"' Politis said. (In reality, Louis had no brother.)

"They said, 'OK, what else?"' Politis continued. "He asked for a horse and cart so he could carry water to his village, Maroussi, which had no water. He turned that into a business."

Down the route in Pikermi, 78-year-old Thanassis Ginosatis offered a romantic twist to the story, although the historical record offers no evidence that it happened.

"There was a girl who came out in Pallini and offered him some wine," Ginosatis said. "After the race he married her."

He added: "At least that's what I heard."

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