Bréal’s Silver Cup, the award given to the winner of the first ever competitive Marathon race, held at the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, broke the world record price for an item of Olympic memorabilia sold at auction, selling for $861,129.
Presented at auction for the first time, the unique cup, which stands at only six inches high, was offered for sale by the grandson, and namesake of the famous Greek athlete who won it – Spyros Louis. It was bought by The Stavros Niarchos Foundation and will be shared with the Greek people by being permanently displayed for public view at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centerupon its completion in 2015. In the interim, the Foundation will work to find a suitable and temporary location for display.
The previous record for an Olympic item was set in April 2011, when a torch from the 1952 Olympic Games held in Helsinki was sold at auction in Paris for $400,000.
“I is hard to believe that such a small trophy represents so much in sporting and Olympic history,” said Nicolette Tomkinson and Sophie Churcher, both of Christie’s, in a joint statement. The item was sold on the day Britain marked the 100 days’ countdown to the 2012 London Olympics.
The men’s marathon race was invented by French philologist Michel Bréal as part of the Athletics at the 1896 Olympic Games. Inspired by the legend of the messenger Pheidippides, Bréal had the idea to stage a race from the city of Marathon to Athens – a distance of 25 miles, and promised a silver cup to the winner.
Of the seventeen athletes who began the race, only ten completed the course, one of whom was later disqualified for having travelled by carriage for part of the race. Spyros Louis finished in just under three hours – eight minutes ahead of second place – and was presented with Bréal’s Silver Cup, along with a silver medal, an antique vase, an olive branch and a diploma by King George. Louis allegedly sipped cognac on his way round the track, and took the lead only a couple of miles from the finish line after two competitors ahead of him collapsed. He went on to become a National hero as the only Greek athletics champion at the inaugural Olympic Games.
Further Olympic highlights from the sale included a vintage poster advertising travel to the first London Olympics in 1908, which sold for $24,033; The Harold Abrahams Collection of memorabilia dating from 1911-1924, which sold for a combined $63,528; and an Olympic Torch from the 1948 London Olympics, which sold for $10,014.