Stylianos (Stelios) Kyriakides is a Greek legend for all Marathon runners, although he is best known for winning first place in the Boston Marathon in 1946.
The Greek long-distance runner did not travel to America for glory and records, however; he did it in order to raise money for his beloved, war-torn Greece.
After crossing the finishing line, clocking in at 2:29:27, Stylianos Kyriakides looked up in the skies and shouted “For Greece!” He then toured America to raise the desperately- needed funds that would be used to help feed and clothe his fellow Greeks back home.
It was purely patriotism and humanitarianism that made it all possible for the man who, when he was young, had been told that his feet and physique were not right for an athlete.
The remarkable runner is now being honored once again by his son, Dimitris Kyriakides, who is preparing a book about his father to be released in 2021, 75 years after his great victory.
The book, titled “The Life and Timeless Work of Stelios Kyriakides,” is a loving tribute to the charismatic Greek man by his son.
Born in Cyprus, Running for Greece
Stylianos Kyriakides was born on May 4, 1910, in the mountain village of Statos, in Cyprus, to his farmer parents, John and Eleni Ilia.
At the age of 19, the odd jobs he was doing to help his family brought him to work as a house boy in the home of the British doctor Reginal Cheverton.
It was there that Kyriakides learned English — but more importantly, he was told by Dr. Cheverton that he had the potential to become a good long distance runner.
In 1931, however, he had begun to develop knee pain, as well as pains in his chest. Dr. Cheverton, a long distance runner himself, told him that he had a low heart rate — meaning he could run for a long time.
Under Cheverton’s encouragement, Kyriakides began running late at night along Limassol Beach — wearing his work clothes.
When Cheverton returned to England, he sent the young man two running shirts and a pair of running shoes, allowing him to start training in a more serious way.
On February 1933, Kyriakides heard the announcement for the Pan-Cyprian Games and went to the stadium of Olympia club to train.
The reception Kyriakides received from the other athletes was not warm, however. They told him that he simply could never be a good runner. But his persistence was stronger than the pointed criticism from other runners.
In September of 1933 he was sent to Greece to take part in the National Championship and the Pre-Balkan races, where he came in second in the 10K.
It was the beginning of Kyriakides’ brilliant athletic career. From that moment on, he held the National Greek Marathon record until April 1968 — a total of 34 years and 6 months.
It was most likely the longest national record held by one man, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
A life of danger and adventure
During the German occupation of Greece, Kyriakides assisted Resistance fighters by passing messages to different groups.
Owning a short wave radio that he had bought in Boston in 1938, he passed on the BBC news to other Greek people to give them courage during the War.
In early 1943, Kyriakides was arrested and taken to the main square in Chalandri along with another 49 people. They were all to be executed by hanging.
That grim fate was in retaliation for the killing of several German soldiers by the Resistancea a few days earlier.
When Kyriakides was asked for his identification, he showed to the German officer his Berlin Olympics ID. The German was very surprised and asked him how he got it.
Kyriakides explained the story, and it just so happened the German officer was a long distance runner himself. By this strange quirk of fate, the Greek marathon runner was allowed to walk away.
The other 49 Greeks were tragically killed that day; the searing incident marked Kyriakides deeply throughout the rest of his life. A few days later the German officer who had spoken to him visited his home to see his trophies.
The German then gave orders that that house should never be searched by German patrols from that time onward.
This gave Kyriakides the chance to hide in his basement several Allied parachutists whose planes had been shot out of the sky, until they could be safely transported to Egypt.
According to Dimitris Kyriakides’ book, his father was the first to have done things which are taken for granted now, that no other runner had ever done before:
- Train with his coach by correspondence in 1934-35 and 1945 (Greece to Cyprus)
- Kyriakides used a wrist stopwatch for pace – 1934
- He did stretching exercises before warming up – 1935
- Kyriakides followed a strict diet – 1935
- He was the first to run for charity (for war-stricken Greece) – in Boston in 1946
- He also ran for a special cause – in Boston 1947 (To collect money and athletic gear for Greek team can go to the 1948 London Olympics)
- First non-American or Canadian to win the Boston Marathon
- First runner to be featured in an American comic book
A lifetime of honors
Kyriakides passed away in Athens in 1987. Yet his legacy as a great runner who served his country and humanity lives on.
He was awarded the “Grand Cross of the Phoenix” by the King of the Greeks at that time. The marathoner was also honored for his contribution from several municipalities in Greece.
In the United States, Kyriakides was honored by the Governor of Massachusetts, the Olympic Committee of the U.S.A. and other officials.
In The Sports Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, there is a permanent exhibition in honor of the Greek phenomenon, with the title “Stylianos Kyriakides – Running for Mankind.”
In 2004 — after an award from the Athletic Federation of Hopkinton, the city of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where the Boston Marathon starts, unveiled a stunning statue of Kyriakides called “The Spirit of the Marathon.”
The statue was dedicated on the 60th anniversary of his victory in 2006. A copy of the same sculpture has been placed in the Municipality of Marathon in Greece.