ATHENS – Most of the record 18,750 runners from 100 countries who participated in the 2018 Athens Marathon are home by now and sharing memories that will last a lifetime about their trek along Pheidippides’ original heroic path with friends and family.
When Pheidippides gasped “νικῶμεν – we won!” to relieved Athenians, signifying the Persian threat was defeated by the Hellenic armies, he may have had an idea that history would attach his name to the news he delivered – but little did he know that he gave birth to a phenomenon.
What is billed as the “authentic marathon” is just one of hundreds of annual marathons of all kinds all over the world, but running in Athens is especially meaningful to Hellenes of the Diaspora.
Among the many spectators was New York’s Lou Katsos, president of East Mediterranean Business and Cultural Alliance (EMBCA) and president of the American Hellenic Institute’s New York Chapter. He was there to cheer on his son, John Katsos, who traveled to the Greek capital from Dubai for his first marathon.
“It was a big party at the end. DJs, bands, tons pf people – it was amazing – thousands of people clapping,” John Katsos said.
John ran track in high school and played soccer, but his athletic life was on pause for a long time. His marathon motivation was fueled by his Hellenic passion, cultivated since childhood by his dad, whose family is from Georgitsi in Peloponessos, and his mother Barbara, with roots in Piraeus, Ikaria and Asia Minor.
He took the plunge – the renowned path is more grueling than glamourous – at the urging of friend, however, Michael Pannone, who is Italian and East European Jewish.
They met as interns at the U.S. Embassy in Greece when they were in college. Michael fell in love with the country – this was his sixth or seventh visit to Greece – and earned his honorary Greek status with the 2018 run, but he really felt it when Lou Katsos crowned him and his friend with an olive wreath from the Katsos family’s olive groves in Kalamata.