The Games of the I Olympiad: Athens, 1896
As the Athens Olympics approached, the marathon race was viewed with interest, excitement, and concern. Individual feats of long-distance running had been recorded in years past. In the 1700s Foster Powell ran all over England, covering a 402-mile round-trip at age sixty. From 1870-1890, six- day races became popular in England and the United States. Some runners covered over 600 miles during these races, but most of the contests were held on tracks with runners taking rests. The notion of a footrace on the hot and dusty country roads of Greece contested by an international group of amateur competitors and covering a distance of nearly twenty-five miles was unprecedented. Some medical experts warned that such a race would be extremely dangerous to the runners.
When Michel Bréal and Pierre de Coubertin had proposed the idea of the marathon race to the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, the Greeks had embraced the plan with enthusiasm. Here, after all, was a race that grew out of Greek history and commemorated the feat of a Greek runner. Georgious Averoff, a Greek businessman who was the primary financial backer of the Athens Olympics and who had designed and paid for the restoration of the ancient Panathenaic Stadium in which many of the events would take place, was a supporter of the race, as was Ionnis Lambros, a wealthy collector of Greek antiquities. Lambros offered an antique vase to be added to Bréal's cup as the prize for the marathon champion.