The image of Greek and Cyprus war hero and marathon runner Stylianos (Stelios) Kyriakides, has been linked to the 125th anniversary commemoration of the famous Boston Marathon which he won to great acclaim in 1946.
A marathon race banner featuring a full-length image of the Cyprus-born Mr Kyriakides running the race in 1946 has been placed at a prominent point along the race route opposite the Consulate General of Greece in Boston.
This year’s race, which will be held on 11 October, is made even more poignant as it is the first time it has been run in person in 990 days. Thanks to the pandemic, the last two races were run “remotely” by participants who independently ran their own courses.
The race organisers, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), will also hold an opening ceremony for the first time in the event’s long history which will highlight key moments in the race’s history. It will also include an account of the use of Greek olive wreaths to crown Boston Marathon champions over the years. The opening ceremony will be held the evening before the race in Boston’s Copley Square.
The banner dedicated to 1946 Boston Marathon winner Stylianos Kyriakides hangs prominently along the race route and opposite the offices of Greece’s Consulate General in Boston.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Boston Marathon Official Charity Program but Mr Stylianos, who ran the race in April 1946, is considered to be the event’s first charity runner as he used the platform of his victory to ask for American help for Greece recovering from the Second World War.
He toured the United States after the race to raise awareness of Greece’s plight.
Thanks to Mr Stylianos’ efforts after the race, 25,000 tons of aid were donated and distributed to over a million Greeks. He also $250,000 in cash.
During the race he kept close to race favourite, Johnny Kelley. Not far from the finish line an old man among the bystanders shouted to him: “For Greece, for your children!” and that spurred him on to win the race in 2:29:27 making it the fastest marathon of the year and beating his own best time by 14 minutes.
Facts about Stylianos (Stelios) Kyriakides
Cyprus born Stylianos Kyriakides was a champion long distance runner in Greece, competing in the 1936 Olympics, but his career was halted in its tracks due to the Nazi occupation of his home country. After fighting for the resistance, the frail and emaciated man made his way to the U.S. and competed in the 1946 Boston Marathon, a race to which he was initially denied entry – doctors feared he would die while running, so weak was his condition.
During the race, he pulled himself from near last place to finish first, yelling “For Greece!” when he crossed the finish line, with his win enabling him to raise money and food relief for his war-torn country.
Kyriakides was born in Paphos, Cyprus
Kyriakides competed for Greece in the 1936 Summer Olympics, placing 11th. He was invited by his friend and fellow Berlin marathoner, Johnny Kelley, to participate in the Boston Marathon in the late 1930s. On the day of the marathon he wore new shoes, which injured his feet and caused him to place poorly.
He returned to Greece, and survived the German occupation during World War II. With the Greek Civil War raging, he returned to win the 1946 Boston Marathon. According to a newspaper report, he was running with Johnny Kelley near the end, when an old man shouted from the crowd, “For Greece, for your children!” inspiring him to pull away and win the race in 2:29:27. According to Life magazine he shouted ‘For Greece’ as he crossed the finish line.
In 1948 he finished 18th in the Olympic marathon at the London Games.
A sculpture of Kyriakides called “The Spirit of the Marathon” was unveiled in Boston in 2004. It is at the 1 mile mark of the marathon in Hopkinton. It was commissioned by the Hopkinton Athletic Association and was dedicated in 2006 to mark the 60th anniversary of Kyriakides’ victory in the 1946 race.
“The winner of the 50th Boston Marathon, Kyriakides used his victory as a call to action to aid his war and famine-ravaged homeland. Kyriakides, who narrowly escaped execution during World War II during the Nazi occupation of Greece, hadn’t run in six years when he came to Boston in 1946, with the help of Greek-American benefactors. He was emaciated from the lack of food in war-ravaged Greece, and at one point was told by doctors in Boston he wouldn’t be allowed to run because they were afraid he would die in the streets. That backdrop only added to the almost mythic race performance, in which Kyriakides came on at the end to defeat the defending champion and set the best time in the world for 1946. Nearly a million people greeted him on his return to Athens in May 1946, when he came back with boat loads of food, medicine, clothing and other essentials donated by Americans who read of his victory.”
He was to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Phoenix and was honoured by a number of Greek cities, and they Olympic Committee of USA among others. A permanent exhibition “Stylianos Kyriakides -Running for Mankind” is housed in the Sports Museum in Massachusetts.
He died in Athens in 1987.
His statue entitled “The Spirit of the Marathon” was raised in his honour in Hopkinton, near Boston, in 2004 and was dedicated in 2006 to mark the 60th anniversary of his victory in 1946.