ATHENS – The family of the late 1946 Boston Marathon winner Stylianos Kyriakides, a Cypriot who triumphed against all odds, was celebrated at the AHEPA convention's Athletic Hall of Fame luncheon in the Greek capital.
The event saw five inductees into the hall and others in college and high schools also honored, as well as Greek former national basketball team star and coach Panagiotis Giannakis, and National Football League player Ted Karras given the Harry Agganis Award for the Most Outstanding Athlete in the community.
Agganis is perhaps the greatest of all Greek-American athletes, a football and baseball star at Boston University who then played first base for the Boston Red Sox, dying tragically at 26 in 1955 from an embolism.
His story is matched by that of Kyriakides, who survived World War II and dropping out of the 1938 Boston Marathon to return eight years later to win despite being emaciated from Greece's famine.
The win helped bring massive financial aid and food and other goods for Greece and on his return to Athens a month later he was greeted by hundreds of thousands of Greeks.
His daughter Eleni, and granddaughter Maria Contos, were at the event to accept the honor from Greg Stamos, Chairman of AHEPA's National Athletic Awards. “His victory in Boston 75 years ago was iconic,” said Stamos.
“It was a bit of a Hollywood ending,” he noted, Kyriakides having started the race with a note in his hand written by Boston businessman George Demeter that read, H Tan H Epi Tas, the words said by Spartan mothers to their sons heading off to battle with their shields, told to come home “with it or on it.”
Demeter had written something on the back and told Kyriakides, whom doctors almost forbade from running, not to read it until he won. Kyriakides passed the defending champion and friend, Johnny Kelley near the end and turned over the note to see “Nenikikamen.”
That – “We are victorious” – was said to have been shouted by Pheidippides when he ran from the plains of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. to declare a Persian invasion had been beaten back.
Stamos said, “The story of Kyriakides showed the world all about Greece.” He said the annual awards show, “What is the power of sports and … that it's more than just wins and losses.”
This was the first time in many years that AHEPA held the event, postponed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Athens, which resulted in only one of the four inductees into the Hall of Fame, Cypriot tennis player Marcos Baghdatis, being able to attend.
The others were Spero Dedes a sports broadcaster in the United States; Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting Pyrros Dimas, now retired and who was with the team in Tokyo; former NBA player Kurt Rambis and tennis player and coach Stella Sampras-Webster, sister of tennis great Pete Sampras.
Brothers Pat and Chris Winkel of Orange, Connecticut, who play baseball for the University of Connecticut, received the William G. Chirgotis Award as the Most Outstanding Scholar-Athletes.
The Agganis Family-Galatis Award for the Most Oustanding High School Scholar- Athlete went jointly to brothers Dino and Athan Kaliakmanis, who will enter the University of Minnesota after starring for the high school football team in Antioch, Illinois.
Also recognized was Laila Ali, the daughter of the late heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. She turned boxer in her early life as well, retiring undefeated after notching 24 wins.
She told the luncheon audience that during her brief time in Greece she hadn't been able to see many of of the famous tourist sites or other attractions but that, “I've seen the most important thing here – the heart, the spirit, the legacy of the Greek people.”
She also noted that her father also “loved Greece and Greek food.”