The Boston Marathon Annual Wreath Ceremony

The Boston Marathon Annual Wreath Ceremony

Every year, the Boston Athletic Association receives four gold wreaths, cut from olive trees of the city of Marathon, as a symbolic gift from the people of Greece. The olive wreath tradition represents all the indispensable ideals for which the citizens-soldiers fought in Marathon over 2,500 years ago: freedom, individual dignity, and the power of democracy, all of which remain relevant today. 

This tradition, and simple but potent symbol, connects the ancient with the modern world.

At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, Greece conceived of a 26-mile race following the route of the ancient Athenians in order to remember the Battle of Marathon. 

There was no official U.S. Olympic team in 1896. But there was a B.A.A. team that would make up the majority of the American delegation. The B.A.A. established the first "Boston Marathon" the next year in 1897 and held it on Patriots Day, thus connecting the new race with the Battle of Marathon, the Modern Olympic Games and the day we celebrate the courage of our own American citizen-soldiers, the Minutemen, who stood up in 1775 to an enormous military power to win our American liberty.

Since 1984, the Consulate General of Greece in Boston has presented the Boston Athletic Association with olive branch wreaths to crown the four first place winners of the Boston Marathon. Each year these wreaths are grown, cut, and hand crafted in Greece, transmitting Classical Greece's tradition of crowning its victors with olive wreaths to Boston, the "Athens of America".

In 1984, Peter Agris of the Alpha Omega Council, and Tim Kilduff, Race Director of the BAA, worked with Governor Michael Dukakis, Lt. Governor John Kerry, and Boston Mayor Ray Flynn to arrange for Olive Wreaths from Greece to be presented to the winners of the Boston Marathon. While wreaths from Greece had been presented on some occasions in the past, their actions in 1984 established the formal Wreath Ceremony. Today we recognize the contributions of these men to reconfirming the fundamental connection of the Boston Marathon to Greece.

In addition to the Greek wreaths, the "Spirit of the Marathon" statue appears both in Hopkinton, Massachusetts at the 1-mile mark of The Boston Marathon, and in the main square of Marathon, Greece.

The sculpture depicts the first Marathon winner in 1896, Spyridon Louis, urging Stylianos Kyriakides on to victory in the 1946 Boston Marathon.

At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin Stylianos Kyriakides competed in the Marathon for his native country of Greece, placing 11th. There he met fellow Berlin marathoner, Johnny Kelley of Boston, who encouraged him to come to America and to participate in the Boston Marathon. However, on the day of the 1938 Boston Marathon, Kyriakides wore new running shoes, causing his feet to bleed, costing him the race. Kyriakides returned to Greece, where he barely survived the Nazi occupation. With the Greek Civil War following on the heels of World War II, and with thousands of countrymen still dying from starvation following their heroic and critical resistance to fascism, Kyriakides felt compelled to run the Boston Marathon again in 1946, this time not for his own personal success, but to draw America’s attention to Greece’s condition. So in 1946 Kyriakides returned to Boston, but was so emaciated from the lack of food in war-ravaged Greece, he was told by doctors in Boston that he would not be allowed to run because they were afraid he would die in the streets. Nevertheless, Kyriakides ran and won the Marathon. According to a newspaper report, he was running neck and neck with Kelley nearing the finish line, when an old man shouted from the crowd, “For Greece, for your children!” motivating Kyriakides to pull away and win the race in 2:29:27, a new record time. According to Life magazine he shouted, “For Greece'' as he crossed the finish line.

Nearly a million people greeted Kyriakides on his return to Athens in May 1946, when he came back with boat loads of food, medicine, clothing and other essentials donated by generous Americans who read of his cause and victory. His story has inspired generations of runners, and he is remembered as one of the greatest figures in the history of the Boston Marathon and American sport. He is considered the first in a long line of charitable runners-those who run for the good and for virtue.

Today, the Boston Marathon Annual Wreath Ceremony takes place with the same passion and excitement as when Kyriakedes won in 1946. The Consulate General of Greece in Boston, with the support of The Alpha Omega Council and the 26.2 Foundation, continue to create an event that combines the pride, drive, and principles of the Hellenic people with that of Boston and all the runners of the Boston marathon.

As Stylianos Kyriakedes famously once said, "Ya Tin Ellahtha! For Greece!"

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