The history of athletic excellence in Greece dates back some 2,500 years. It all began in the early 5th century BC with the Greek victory over the Persian Empire — a milestone in Greek and European history. According to historical records, an Athenian soldier & messenger, named Pheidippidis, was dispatched from Athens to Sparta, before the battle which was about to take place in Marathon, to deliver the news of the Persian invasion, and ask for help. He ran the 220-km distance between the two cities in full armor and returned to Athens with the reply. This ancient ultra-distance runner has been associated with two international present-day running events: the Spartathlon, and the Athens Marathon — although Pheidippidis’ connection to the latter cannot be historically proven.
Spartathlon ranks high among the world’s famed ultra-marathon races and takes place annually in late September. The runners cover the 245-km distance from Athens to Sparta City, with a cut-off time of 36 hours. The race ends at Sparta’s main square, where those who cross the finish line are crowned with an olive branch wreath — the ancient Greek symbol of peace, wisdom and victory — in commemoration of the award ceremony held for the Olympic Games winners in antiquity.
Marathon races are among the most famous running events across the world. The Athens Marathon — known as the Authentic — takes place every November, and it is the first Marathon in history: the 42 km course from Marathon to Athens was covered for the first time in 490 BC by an Athenian army messenger who ran to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians to the anxious Athenians. The Marathon race has been included in the modern Olympic Games since their revival in 1896.
Land sports in Greece may have their devoted fans; but aquatics are equally, if not more, popular. It’s only natural, as the country is surrounded almost entirely by water. Water sports and games are very popular here, and fans can participate or watch the events that take place along and off the coastline and around the country’s numerous islands. The Aegean 600 and the Aegean Regatta are two popular international yearly sailing races that take participants on an adventure across the Aegean Sea, in July and August. The course and destinations differ each year. There’s a host of other water sports for you to try and enjoy, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced water sports fan. The same applies to the Ionian Sea, where the winds are generally milder and ideal for beginners. Lefkada Island is well-known for its water sports clubs and schools, and the islets southeast of Lefkada are ideal for exploration on any type of boat. For the experienced sailors among you, there’s the International Ionian Sailing Week, an annual event that takes place in late July – early August across the Ionian Sea.
Whatever your favorite sports might be, there’s a world of options for you in the Greek mainland and the islands; make the most of them!