Winners' Wreath Ceremony and Greek Consulate
In 1984, a team of local businessmen, legislators and diplomats recognized the connection between Athens, the birthplace of democracy, and Boston, the ‘Athens of America,’ and sought to find a proper way in which to honor and celebrate it. Together they created a tradition of presenting the Boston Athletic Association with olive branch wreaths to crown the four first-place winners of the Marathon.
That team included then-Consul General of Greece in Boston, Christos Panagopoulos; directors of the B.A.A.; Governor Michael Dukakis; Mayor Ray Flynn; then-race director Timothy Kilduff, now head of the 26.2 Foundation; and Peter Agris, a founding director of the Alpha Omega Council, which cultivates and promotes the ideals of Hellenism in the U.S.
Every year since then, this gift of Greece, made possible by the Council and the 26.2 Foundation, has been presented to the B.A.A. by the Consul General of Greece in Boston during the Boston Marathon Wreath Ceremony, held just days before the race. In recent years, the wreaths have been donated in memory of Stylianos Kyriakides, to honor his heroic 1946 Boston Marathon win.
The wreaths, cut and hand-crafted from olive branches growing on the plains of Marathon, Greece, are a highly symbolic gift, rich in history and tradition. Winners of the ancient Olympic Games competed not for wealth of any sort, but for a simple woven wreath of olive branches.
In 490 BC, citizen soldiers from Athens, the world’s first democracy, assembled at Marathon, some 26 miles north of Athens, to confront an invading Persian army. The Athenians, although vastly outnumbered, managed to defeat the Persian attackers – news brought back to the city by the legendary runner Pheidippides.
Less well-remembered is that the Athenian soldiers in Marathon then also had to run back to Athens to defend it against the Persians, who had fled to their boats to sail to Athens and attack it by sea. Shocked to see the same Athenian soldiers again, the Persians gave up the fight and sailed home. The Athenian victory ultimately left Western civilization free to develop and flourish.
According to Herodotus, during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC, the Persian general Tiritantaechmes wondered why so few Greek soldiers had been defending Thermopylae, a narrow, strategic coastal passage. He was told that all the other Greek men were participating in the Olympic Games. “Good heavens,” the general exclaimed. “What men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions, but for virtue."
More recently, with the Boston Marathon held as a virtual event, the Alpha Omega Council sought new, appropriate recipients for the four gold wreaths created for the 2020 winners. After brief deliberation, the decision was made to present them to the B.A.A., the Sports Museum of Boston, the Consulate General of Greece in Boston, and the 26.2 Foundation, for permanent display and educational use.
Government, religious, community, business and marathon contributors pose with members of the Greek-American community to honor the 35-year tradition of the marathon winner wreaths.
Stratos Efthymiou, Consul General of Greece in Boston (r), presents Alpha Omega Council president Nick Ypsilantis with a Boston Marathon gold wreath in September 2020, the year the Boston Marathon was held virtually. The presentation was made under the watchful eye of ‘The Starter,’ the statue in Hopkinton that honors long-time Marathon starter George V. Brown.
Members of the 26.2 Foundation, Alpha Omega Council, Hopkinton Select Board and the Consul General of Greece in Boston with a 2020 gold wreath, photographed at the Kyriakides statue at Mile One of the Boston Marathon route.