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.
Louis is also known as the Greek Olympian who extended an olive branch – a symbol of peace – to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, whose rise in power ultimately led to the Second World War 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 foustanela 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.
The Olympics in Berlin were held just two years after Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and four years before Nazi Germany invaded Greece.
As previously reported in The Pappas Post, the iconic Olympic cup that Louis won at the Games in Athens in 1896 will be exhibited at Greece’s new Acropolis Museum from September and for a one-year period. The decision was announced on July 18 by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which recently purchased the 15cm silver cup at Christie’s in London.
Named after Frenchman Michel Bréal who invented the marathon race, the Bréal Cup sold for more than $800,000 – breaking the global auction record for Olympic memorabilia.