Several times I asked to myself how this column could start. Modern history has many anecdotes and tear-jerking narratives about sport challenges at the limit, incredible aims and impossible goals.
Then, I thought that a good start could have been… the start itself.
So, I decided to tell about the origins of the preeminent running competition: the marathon.
Several people think that the credit belongs to De Coubertin. You are partly right.
However, the first person to run a marathon has been an Athenian infantryman that ran without any thermal t-shirt, no shock absorber shoes and no tights.
He was only wearing armor, shield, sword, and helmet on his head and he was boosted by the strong necessity to reach Athens.
Against the Oppression and the Tyranny
Since the beginning of the V century, the Greek islands had started to oppose to the Persian yoke, to the Asian oppression from the Babylonian East. The polis uprising led to a war and this led to the invasion of the Greek peninsula.
The 12th of September 490, the Athenian infantrymen crowded the plans of Marathon noticing a massive fleet -led by Dario (who was the Persian emperor)- that was about to unload.
This fleet symbolized oppression and tyranny, two concepts that Greeks had always tried to refuse.
20.000 Athenians were able to attack the Persian troops and defeat them on the bank of the Aegean Sea.
The deranged run
Within the Athenian formation, there was a man, who was well known all over Greece.
His notoriety was due to his speed and not to his bravery on the battlefield or his ability with the spear.
Pheidippides was the fastest messenger in the city of Attica.
As told by Plutarch, some days before the battle, Pheidippedes reached Sparta- covering a distance of 225 kilometers in only one day- in order to ask for help.
After the battle, Militiades – the Greek general- noticed that the Persian fleet was heading to an undefended Athens to attack it from the sea.
He realized that Pheidippides was the only one who could have saved the city and alert the navy.
You should not think about a man wearing a pair of shorts, a pair of shoes and a t-shirt – like the one you have seen in a runners’ shop on Oxford Street.
Indeed, Pheidippides’s armor weighted 20 kilos, his shield threw off balance, and his helmet pressed his neck by preventing him from breathing.
Finally, his leather sandals that were perfectly suitable for the city but surely not apt to run 42 kilometers.
Death and Victory
Plutarch told that Pheidippides arrived on time to advice his co-citizens about their victory. When he arrived in Athens, several citizens welcomed him. Once there he exclaimed: Nenikèkamen! (” we won”) and he finally collapsed, exhausted by his exertion.
2000 years later, a French aristocrat, named De Coubertin, sought to devise an athletic competition that could close the first edition of the Olympic games, which would have been held on Athens in 1896.
The ruins of the stadium that used to host the votive games were found in the city of Olympia. Everywhere, the ancient Greece was conquering more and more allure.
By reading Plutarch’s story, de Coubertin found the inspiration for the preeminent athletic competition. A run whose physical and psychological load is that heavy that thousand people would rather give up before the finish line.
An effort that every time is made recalls Pheidippides’ accomplishments and his deranged run towards Athens.