89: Spartathlon Part 2 (1983) – The First Race


Manage episode 304078018 series 2396657
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By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Spartathlon, an ultra of 246 km (153 miles), takes place each September in Greece, running from Athens to Sparta and with its 36-hour cutoff. It is one of the toughest ultramarathons to finish. In Part 1 of this series, episode 88, the story was told how Spartathlon was born in 1982, the brainchild of an officer in the Royal Air Force, John Foden. Three servicemen successfully covered a route that was believed to have been taken in 490 B.C., by the Greek messenger, Pheidippides. The 1982 trial run set the stage for the establishment of the Spartathlon race. The race's 1983 inaugural year is covered in this part won by Yiannis Kouros of Greece. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member The Founding of Spartathlon in 1983 The Three Finishers. After John Foden and two others finished the historic 1982 trial run between Athens and Sparta, Foden told those at the finish, “You need to make the route we have run, a race.” However, he did not think seriously that a race would be organized anytime soon. Michael Graham Callaghan (1945-2013), an Athens businessman, and a member of the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (BHCC) in Greece was the driving force and the founder of the formal Spartathon race. Back in 1982, Callaghan had helped Foden organize his trial run and obtained sponsors. Callaghan was at the finish in Sparta and awarded the three finishers crowns of olive leaves. A month later, Callaghan received a kind letter from Air Marshal Thomas Kennedy from the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Germany, thanking him for his support of Foden’s 1982 RAF expedition run from Athens to Sparta. The letter included, “John Foden has told me about the invaluable help you gave the expedition when it found itself in financial straits that made its abandonment seem certain, and also in revamping its low-key publicity into a campaign that achieved international TV and press coverage. I should like to thank you most sincerely for your interest and your enterprise which prevented the possible cancellation of the expedition, and your initiative in recognizing that its success could be used to reinforce the friendly relations that exist between Great Britain and Greece. We are all very much in your debt.” This kind letter further helped Callaghan become captivated with the idea for a race and he charged ahead to make it happen. Plans for Spartathlon come together Just four months after the historic 1982 RAF expedition, in February 1983, the Hellenic Amateur Athletics Association (SEGAS) announced that Spartathlon would be held on September 30, 1983. The name for the race combined the Greek words for Sparta and Feat. Officially that first year it was called, the “Open International Spartathlon Race.” A multi-national team of supporters came together led by Callaghan and was based at the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens. Under Greek law, Callaghan was not allowed to be the actual president of the organization, but he was the first race organizer. Foden said, “My idea to have a race would never have taken off if were not for Callaghan’s energy, enthusiasm and talents as a salesman. At the start he might not have known much about running and relied on the advice I gave him during visits to Greece, but he soon became very knowledgeable.” A group of Athens-based British businessmen were signed up to be the main sponsors for the 1983 race. Entrants Forty-four men and one woman from twelve countries were entered into the first Spartathlon. They arrived in Athens four days before the race, on September 26, 1983, and took a two-day bus ride to preview the course and sight-see.

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