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London 2012: Olympic 1896 marathon winner's cup sold for nearly £550,000

By Jenny Minard
BBC 2012

image captionThe cup was held aloft at the first modern Games

The winner's cup from the first Olympic marathon at the Athens 1896 Games is to stay in Greece after being bought by a foundation at an auction at Christie's.

The Breal's Silver Cup, presented to Greek Spyridon (Spyros) Louis, was bought for £541,250 by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

It is believed to be a world record amount paid for an item of auctioned Olympic memorabilia.

The cup will be put on permanent public display in Athens from 2015.

The foundation, which was set up in 1996 in honour of the Greek shipping magnate, is establishing a cultural centre in the Greek capital where the cup will be held.

Olympic historian Alexander Kitroeff said: "The significance and value of the silver cup is far greater than almost any other Olympic memorabilia dating from those first modern Games in Athens.

"The cup will serve as a reminder of our history, heritage and resilient spirit."

It was sold by the runner's grandson Spyros Louis (junior), who said: "I could never have imagined the auction of my grandfather's cup would generate such international interest, and raise such significant funds to secure the future of my family.

"I am overwhelmed by the global admiration felt for my grandfather and his Olympic victory for Greece in 1896, and I am proud to have witnessed another historical Olympic event as my children and I watched the auction unfold live online."

The cup, which has been on private display in the Louis family home for 100 years, was expected to fetch between £120,000 and £160,000.

Christie's said the previous world record price was achieved in April 2011, when an Olympic torch from the 1952 Games, held in Helsinki, was sold at auction in Paris for €290,000 (£239,000 at the current exchange rate).

The auction was held as London 2012 organisers marked the 100-day countdown to this summer's Games.

Historic sale

"We are honoured to have been entrusted with the historic sale of Bréal's Silver Cup, and we are delighted that its importance has clearly been recognised by collectors around the world," Nicolette Tomkinson from Christie's said.

"It is hard to believe that such a small trophy represents so much in sporting and Olympic history."

Other items in the auction included British gold medallist Harold Maurice Abrahams' collection of silver cups, medals, photographs and memorabilia relating to the 1924 Games.

The collection was expected to sell for between £3,000 and £5,000, but was bought for £39,650.

An Olympic advertising poster from the first London Games in 1908 was the first lot to be sold at the auction on Wednesday for £15,000.

The design was used to advertise travel to the first London Olympic Games - the IVth Olympiad, in 1908.

image captionThe earliest Olympic Games poster from the IVth Olympiad, in 1908

The Games were originally scheduled to take place in Rome, but were relocated because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906.

Iconic trophy

The marathon cup is named after Frenchman Michel Bréal, the man behind the race.

He was inspired to stage the contest by the legend of the messenger Pheidippides, a herald in ancient Greece, who ran 25 miles from a battlefield near Marathon, to Athens when the Greeks claimed victory over Persia in 490BC.

Ten out of 17 competitors finished the first modern Olympic marathon race in April 1896, one having taken a carriage part of the way.

Winner Louis finished in the Panathenaic stadium in under three hours and was presented with the cup, a medal, a vase, an olive branch and a diploma.

The sale featured 168 vintage posters, of which 26 relate to the Olympic Games through the decades.

Posters included the Chinese version of the first official Olympic poster - designed by Olle Hjortzberg of the Royal Academy for the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912.

image captionA torch from the last London Olympic Games in 1948 was sold

Only 350 copies of the Chinese version were printed, however it was banned from display in China for being "offensive to Chinese ideas of decency", Christie's said.

A poster from the London 1948 Olympics was expected to reach between £1,000 and £1,500, but it sold for £4,000.

The torch

The sale also included eight Olympic relay torches.

The origins of the Olympic torch lie in ancient Greece where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Games. It commemorates the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus.

The fire was reintroduced at the summer Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928 and it has been part of the modern Games ever since.

Torches date from the XIth Olympiad held in Berlin in 1936 - the year the torch relay from Greece to the host city was introduced.

A torch from the last London Olympic Games in 1948 was expected to reach up to £1,800, but sold for £6,250.

The auction as a whole raised a total of £1,260,275.

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