Most people training for a marathon would never think of stopping with ten kilometers to go for a glass of vino, but most people aren’t Spyridon Louis winner of the marathon in the first ever modern Olympic games in 1896.

Spyridon Louis’s victory vaulted him to hero status in Greece and the tale of his stopping for a glass of wine prior to finishing the race has become the stuff of legend ever since. Louis was from the village of Maroussi outside the city of Athens, and he received his endurance training in an unconventional way, by carting water back and forth between Maroussi and the city. Louis’s father owned a mineral water company, and since Athens during that time still lacked a central water supply, there was a great demand for water, resulting in Spyridon running back and forth to the city often.

The marathon had never been held before when it was first suggested by Frenchman Michel Bréal, and the Greeks became determined to be the country to win it. Inspired by the legend of the messenger Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of The Battle of Marathon, the race would take the same route. Greeks from across the country threw their hats into the ring and Spyridon’s former commanding officer suggested he join them. When the race was finally held, the field included thirteen runners from Greece and four from other nations.

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The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on the first day of the 1896 Olympics via Wikimedia Commons

Spyridon was not intially the favorite to win the race – he finished fifth in the qualifying marathon that Greece had held a few months before – and in the beginning he fell behind Frenchmen Albin Lermusiaux, who many had come out to see. While trailing the leader, about ten kilometers before the end of the race, it was at this point that Spyridon stopped in the town of Piekrmi for his fabled glass of wine – though some ancestors say it was not wine but Cognac – and then, after finding his liquid endurance, quickly caught up to the leader.

When the racers entered the Panathenaic Stadium, Spyridon was in the lead – Lermusiaux having dropped out at kilometer 32 from exhaustion – and the Greek fans were elated. Upon winning Spyridon became a national hero, and the king of Greece granted him one wish, Spyridon simply asked for a cart, making it easier to transport his water. And if he had never stopped for that glass of wine, he may never have won the race.