An Icon of the Olympic History

09 September 2014 - 28 February 2015

A made-to-measure cup for a legendary race


The Bréal Cup is the trophy received by Spyridon Louis for his marathon victory in the first modern Olympic Games, held in 1896 in Athens after being revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin.


In 1896, the race took place on the last day of the Games. Greece’s Spyridon Louis was on the starting line of the marathon alongside 16 other runners. He took the lead four kilometres away from the Panathenaic Stadium and, to the great joy of the 100,000 spectators in and around the stadium, he won the race in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.


The event goes back to the legend of the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who, in 490 B.C., ran the distance between the cities of Marathon and Athens – some 42 kilometres – to announce the victory against the Persians in the battle of Marathon. When he arrived in front of the Athens assembly, he cried “We have won” (“νενικήκαμεν”) before dying of exhaustion.


Today, the marathon record is 2 hours, 8 minutes and 1 second for men, and 2 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds for women.


As well as the Bréal Cup, Spyridon also received the official prizes of the Games of that era: an olive branch and a silver medal (gold medals were presented from 1904 onwards).


A suggestion inspired by Ancient Greece


The French intellectual, linguist and professor at the Collège de France, Michel Jules Alfred Bréal (1832-1915), suggested to his friend, Pierre de Coubertin, that he include the marathon in the first modern Olympic Games, and present a special cup to the winner.
The Cup can be linked to the Olympic challenges that were also presented to the athletes. The recipients had to return these prizes after four years so that they could be given to the next champions. However, the Bréal Cup remained in Spyridon Louis’ family from 1896 to 2012.


A piece of Olympic history made visible to the public


This trophy surfaced again on 8 April 2012 thanks to the Stávros Niárchos Foundation, which acquired the cup at an auction held by Christie’s. The historical importance of the object, on both an Olympic level and a national one, was the reason why the Foundation made this purchase.
The Foundation also undertook to allow the public to see the Bréal Cup. From 2016 onwards, its will be on permanent display in its new home, the Foundation’s cultural centre, which is currently under construction and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.
In meantime, it will be exhibited at The Olympic Museum for seven months, and then at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.