Spiridon Loues


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Winner of the first marathon race in the Athens Olympics of 1896. Loues was what John J. MacAloon has called the ‘epic hero’ of the first modern Games (This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games, 1981). A modest peasant and water-carrier by occupation, from Maroussi, Loues's victory for the host nation stimulated wild scenes of nationalist celebration that observers of the time and those who were at the stadium itself called ‘unforgettable’ and ‘incredible’. In 1936, Carl Diem, primary organizer of the Berlin Olympics, brought a slim 63-year-old Loues to Germany, to present a bouquet of flowers to Adolf Hitler during the opening ceremonies. Dressed in fustanella (the traditional Greek white kilt), Loues was used there as an echo of the symbol that he had been during his run forty years earlier, in a powerful and politically repugnant example of the invention of tradition in sport. Loues's name was tarnished when he was accused, but acquitted, of falsifying military documents in 1926, though he had to endure a year in prison. His story is also told, and his symbolic significance evaluated, in James P. Verinis, ‘Spiridon Loues, the Modern Foustanéla, and the Symbolic Power of Pallikariá at the 1896 Olympic Games’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 23 (2005). Loues's name has become a folk-heroic legend in Greece, and was the basis of the naming of the modern Olympic stadium constructed for the Athens Olympics of 2004.

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