Bréal’s Silver Cup
The grandson of Marathon winner Spyros Louis, also named Spyros, commented, “Our family has been very proud to have the honour of looking after this important historical sporting trophy for the last 116 years and my grandfather’s achievement of winning the first ever marathon, at the first modern Olympic Games will remain part of my family’s heritage forever. However, it is time to look to the future, not the past – I have two children, and the most important thing for me is to ensure that they are looked after as well as possible. It is always going to be impossible to split a cup, so I have decided that the most sensible thing to do is to offer it at auction, and use the proceeds to secure the future of my family.”
Officially known as The Games of the I Olympiad, the first international Olympic Games held in the Modern era took place in Athens, Greece, on 6-15 April 1896. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date, including competitors from fourteen nations. The Panathinaiko Stadium – the only ancient Olympic stadium used in the 19th century – overflowed with the largest ever crowd to watch a sporting event, amounting to more than 80,000 spectators. The highlight for the host nation, Greece was the final race of the Games – the marathon victory by their compatriot Spyros Louis. A previously unrecognized water carrier, Louis allegedly sipped cognac on his way round the track, and having originally qualified in fifth place in his heat, he took the lead only a couple of kilometres from the finish line after two competitors ahead of him collapsed. He went on to become a National hero as the only Greek athletics champion at the inaugural Olympic Games.
The men’s marathon race was invented by French philologist Michel Bréal as part of the Athletics at the 1896 Olympic Games. Inspired by the legend of the messenger Pheidippides, Bréal had the idea to stage a race from the city of Marathon to Athens – a distance of twenty-five miles (40 kilometres), and promised a silver cup to the winner. Of the seventeen athletes who began the race, only ten completed the course, one of whom was later disqualified for having travelled by carriage for part of the race. Spyros Louis finished in just under three hours – eight minutes ahead of second place – and was presented with Bréal’s Silver Cup, along with a silver medal, an antique vase, an olive branch and a diploma by King George.
Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, the origins of the symbolic Olympic flame or torch lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was reintroduced at the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928 and it has been part of the Modern Olympic Games ever since. Christie’s auction will offer a selection of eight original Olympic torches – including an example dating from the XIth Olympiad held in Berlin in 1936, the year the torch relay from Olympia, Greece to the Host City was introduced, as well as a torch from the last London Olympic Games in 1948– with estimates starting from £700.