The great Greek runner became most renowned for being the first non-U.S. athlete to win the Boston Marathon in 1946; with his victory he raised awareness and money for the plight of post-war Greece.
The 1946 race was Kyriakides’ second attempt at the Boston Marathon. He had run in 1938 as well. On that day of the marathon, he wore new shoes, which injured his feet and caused him to drop out of the race. He took a taxi to the finish line, but told The Boston Globe, “Someday, I’m going to come back and win this race.”
He returned to Greece and fought against the Nazis as a member of the Greek Resistance during the German Occupation. After the war, which left Greece devastated and impoverished, he traveled back to America not only to run, but also tell people about Greece’s suffering. In order to get there, he had to sell his furniture, enabling him to buy a single ticket.
“I came to run for seven million hungry Greeks,” were Kyriakides’ words upon his arrival in the United States. And he was – and looked – very hungry and unhealthy himself. So much so that race doctors asked him to sign a statement before he ran that he would be solely responsible if something happened to him.
Nevertheless, Kyriakides ran and won the Marathon. According to a newspaper report, he was running neck and neck with Johnny Kelley nearing the finish line, when an old man shouted from the crowd, “For Greece, for your children!” motivating Kyriakides to pull away and win the race in 2:29:27, a new record time. According to Life magazine he shouted, “For Greece” as he crossed the finish line. 🏃 🏆 🥇
After the marathon, Kyriakides managed to raise $250,000 in cash and 25,000 tons of American 🇺🇸 Aid supplies (called the “Kyriakides Aid Package”) for Greece.
Aided by the Kyriakides story and accompanied publicity, Greece in 1946/7 was the only country in Europe to receive an advance of $400 million, allocated from the Marshal aid plan (a total of $1.4 billion).
When the record-setting runner returned to Greece on May 23, one million Greeks welcomed him with the honors of a national hero.
The city of Boston honored the Greek runner with a sculpture of Kyriakides called “The Spirit of the Marathon,” which was unveiled in 2004. The evocative statue depicts the first modern Olympic marathon runner Spiros Louis showing the way to Stylianos Kyriakides.