Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
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Historic Unedited Photos They Don't Want You To See
1896 Three Athletes in Training for the Marathon at the Olympic Games in Athens by Burton Holmes
“The Olympics remain the most compelling search for excellence that exists in sport, and maybe in life itself.” Officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, the 1896 Summer Olympics was the first International Olympic Games held in modern history. Organized by the International Olympic Committee, the games were held in Athens, Greece from April 6th to April 15th and welcomed 14 participating nations.
The games earned the largest international participation of any sporting event at the time and marked a huge success as the committee immediately set out to plan the next event. While planning for the next games was underway, American traveler and photographer Burton Holmes ventured to the iconic event and captured a stunning image of three athletes in training for the first-ever marathon. So, how did Burton’s image become an icon of the first Olympic Games? Let’s take a look!
The Birth of the Marathon
Rich in history as the birthplace of the Ancient Olympic Games, it came as little surprise when the International Olympic Committee chose Athens, Greece to host the inaugural modern games. In keeping with tradition, the opening ceremonies took place at Panathenaic Stadium on April 6th and introduced the nations and competing athletes with special performances by nine bands and 150 choir singers.
One of the biggest draws to the 1896 Summer Olympics was the marathon, which was the only road running event held at the multi-sport event. Photographer Burton Holmes captured the excitement of three athletes who were dedicated to training for the games in his photograph titled, “1896 Three Athletes Training for the Marathon at the Games in Athens.” So, what was the big deal about the marathon?
The modern marathon event was created and refined at the 1896 Summer Olympics. The idea for the marathon came from Michel Bréal who suggested the event to Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee. Bréal was inspired by the popular myth that stemmed from the Battle of Marathon in which Pheidippides ran to Athens from Marathon, Greece to carry the news of a Greek victory. Coubertin was open to the idea and planning for the first marathon was well underway for the 1896 event.
The legend of the Battle of Marathon continued at the 1896 Olympic Games with participants starting the race in Marathon, Greece and running a 25-mile course to the finish line in Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium. The race itself was huge since Greek water-carrier Spyridon Louis won the event and ran the 25-mile course in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds, marking a huge victory for the host country.
In the years since the first official Olympic marathon, the race has evolved with the race length varying in the early years depending on the organizers and what they felt were suitable distances at the time. In 1908, the distance of 26 miles, 385 yards was adopted, and, by the 1924 Paris Olympics, the 26.1-mile distance was established as the new standard marking a new chapter in the history of marathon running. This standard paved the way for even more adopters around the world as new events sprung up including the 1897 Boston Marathon, the 1902 Tour de Paris Marathon, the 1907 Yonkers Marathon, and the 1909 London Polytechnic Marathon.
The Olympic Games made marathon-running widely popular; however, participants remained limited to men at the Olympic Games for another century before women were allowed to compete for the first time at the 1984 Olympics. In the decades since then, new marathon records have been set and broken with the most recent record for men held by Samuel Wanjiru in 2008 at 2 hours 6 minutes and 32 seconds. Tiki Gelana holds the women’s record after completing the race in 2 hours 23 minutes and 7 seconds in 2012. Only two athletes have won two Olympic gold medals in the marathon—Abebe Bikila and Waldemar Cierpinkski—with Ethiopia winning six gold medals in the event and the United States winning 12 total medals overall.
About the Photographer
“To travel is to possess the world.” Elias Burton Holmes was an American traveler, photographer, and filmmaker who is best known for coining the term “travelogue.” Born in Chicago, Illinois on January 8, 1870, Burton’s interest in travel flourished at an early age after his grandmother took him to hear a lecture by John L. Stoddard. Burton was determined to see the world and got his start in 1890 with a trip abroad to explore Europe with his grandmother. Upon his return home, he showed slides of his trip to the Chicago Camera Club. “To take the edge off the silence, to keep the show moving, I wrote an account of my journey and read it, as the stereopticon man changed slides,” Burton said of the event.
With the show grossing $350 for the club, a large sum at the time, Holmes knew he was onto something and expanded his work as a lecturer. Over the next few years, he traveled to Japan and Greece before he returned to Chicago and invited 2,000 people to his next two lectures. Both events were sold-out as people flocked to hear the stories of his adventures.
Amid his growing success as a lecturer, photographer, and filmmaker, Holmes spent some time in Greece where he captured the first Summer Olympic Games in 1896. Also riding the first trans-Siberian train, he documented every part of his journey with his camera with one of his most iconic photographs coming from the 1896 Olympic Games where he captured three athletes training for the marathon. The image—1896 Three Athletes in Training for the Marathon at the Olympic Games in Athens by Burton Holmes—only later made him famous and added to his draw as a travel lecturer.
By the time of his death in 1958, the 88-year-old Holmes was well-known around the world for his travels and his lecturing style as he gave life to fellow armchair travelers with escapist fantasies. Refusing to talk politics and poverty, Holmes kept his lectures light and fun as he entertained sold-out crowds in over 8,000 talks spanning the country from New York to California and beyond.