Spyros Louis, the son of a farmer who made a modest living delivering clean drinking water to the rich residents of Athens, became an overnight national hero in 1896 when he won the Marathon at the first modern Olympic Games.
He is remembered to this day as the 23-year-old Greek who ran the race at an unprecedented speed and finished in just under three hours.
But on August 1, 1936, Louis also became known as the Greek Olympian who extended an olive branch — a symbol of peace — to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, whose rise in power ultimately would lead to World World II and the extermination of more than six million Jews in Europe.
This high-profile meeting occurred during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 — on the 40th anniversary of the day Louis made history in his homeland.
Louis, who was 63-years-old in 1936, was given a hero’s welcome by the Nazi hosts of the Games. As the guest of honor at the opening ceremony, he marched into the Olympic Stadium wearing the traditional Greek foustanella and carrying the blue and white Greek flag.
He shook hands with Adolf Hitler and presented him with an olive branch that had been picked from Olympia – the birthplace of the ancient Olympic games.
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