At the Greek Consulate across from the Public Garden in Boston on Thursday evening, there gathered a roomful of diplomatic and athletic worthies. Former Boston Marathon winners Greg Meyer and Joan Benoit Samuelson were among those witnessing the presentation of the wreaths with which the winners of the Boston Marathon will be crowned on Monday. The humble tokens of victory, the wreaths of olive branches, had come all the way from Greece.The ceremony has been continuously observed for 30 years, but had its origin in the affinity those who established the Boston Marathon in 1897 felt for the original marathon as it transpired in 490 BC, when Pheidippides is alleged to have run from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Greeks had defeated the Persian army.
When she was accepting the wreaths from Mr. Ilias Fotopoulos, the Consul General of Greece, Joann Flaminio, the President of the Boston Athletic Association, spoke of an encounter with a current marathoner she declined to identify, suggesting only that he’d have benefitted from being present at the ceremony.
“Some gentleman – and we’ll excuse him because he was a young gentleman – stood up, a marathon runner, and asked the following question: Can you tell me why the Boston Marathon is point to point and not a circular race?” she recalled. “And I thought to myself, ‘Whoa, he really needs a little Greek history lesson, and he certainly doesn’t understand the importance of the great run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens.’”
For many years, the winners of Boston Marathon got nothing but wreaths for their efforts, unless you count the traditional bowl of beef stew. Now, of course, there’s prize money in marathoning and endorsement opportunities for the most accomplished runners. Ilias Fotopoulos, the Consul General of Greece who hosted Thursday’s event, sees the annual presentation of the wreaths from the people of Greece to the people of Boston as a way to remember and reinforce tradition, though he’s aware, of course, that times and marathons have changed.
“This is the reality of current humanity,” he said. “But we will never forget the spirit of the marathon. This is the reason that the first prize is what it is, the wreath. And after follow the others.”