In the late 1800s, inspired by archaeological excavations at Olympia and based on an ideology of international peace and co-operation, French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin lobbied to re-establish the traditional Ancient Games. In 1894, he addressed a congress of 79 delegates who voted unanimously to revive the games and to stage the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Michel Bréal, a French delegate and friend of de Coubertin enthusiastically supported the concept, but insisted that the games include a reference to ancient Greece. Bréal was enthralled by the legend of Pheidippedes and the famous run from Marathon to Athens and offered a silver trophy as a special prize to the man who could duplicate Pheidippides famous exploit. Thus 'The Marathon' was born.
The marathon was a highlight of the first Olympics and was embraced by the hosting country for its reference to their heritage. The Greeks relished the challenge to triumph in the most difficult race of the 1896 Games. Spyros Louis, a Greek national and water-carrier had been given a late entry to the race after finishing fifth in the Greek national trial. After a tense race dominated by non-Greek runners, Louis battled on and took the lead with a few miles to go. As word spread in the stadium that Louis was leading, both Prince George and Crown Prince Constantine left the royal party to accompany him on his final lap to the jubilation of the Greek crowd.
All of the prizes were given by King George at an awards ceremony just prior to the closing ceremony. Louis was the last to receive his award and his moment caused huge celebration in the stands. The official report notes that "When the victor in the Marathon Race ascended the platform, the Stadium resounded with cheers which seemed to take no end (...) nobody can attempt to describe the joy, the enthusiasm of the Greek people" (April 3 1896).
This enormous celebration was the emotional lift needed to sustain and develop the Olympic movement. Without it, it is possible that the Games may not have survived.
Along with the cup, Louis received the official awards of an olive branch, a silver medal (gold medals were not distributed until 1904) and an ancient vase which was immediately donated to a local museum. The cup has remained with the family since the 1896 Games.