Jules Noel

he great long-distance runner, Emil Zátopek, drank a glass of beer after his tough training every day.

The first ever winner of the marathon, Spyridon Louis, was said to have made a pit stop at his uncle’s tavern for a glass of wine before winning gold at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

But discus thrower, Jules Noël, was a beneficiary of the US government’s decision to suspend the importation and imbibing of alcohol.

From 1920 to 1933, it was illegal to produce, import, transport and sell alcoholic beverages. This teetotaler era in the United States, known as Prohibition, happened to be in force during the 1932 Olympics hosted in Los Angeles, California.   But according to David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky in their book, The Book of Olympic Lists, “in the interests of international goodwill the US government suspended its prohibition against alcoholic beverages to allow French, Italian and other athletes to import and drink wine.”

Anti prohibition protest in New York City
Anti Prohibition Protest in New York City in 1932.

Frenchman, Noël, believed that “wine was an essential part of his diet,” according to sports-reference.com. Apparently, the world record holder and eventual gold medalist in the discus throw, John Anderson, led nearly the entire competition. But in the fourth and final round, after Anderson’s leading throw of 49.49 meters, Noël was reported to send a discus way past Andersen’s best throw at the time. But apparently, “the officials were watching the pole vault and did not see it land. Noël was given an extra throw but could not produce his top throw again and he would eventually place fourth.”

Before his mighty but unofficial throw, Noël was said to be “swigging champagne with his compatriots in the locker room between rounds at the discus event.”

True?

In vino veritas!

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marathon to athens map
Marathon to Athens

Albin Lermusiaux of France, jumped out to the lead, but eventually relented to the Greek heat, and quit the footrace at the 32 kilometer mark, carried the rest of the way by horse-drawn cart. Then the Australian, Edwin Flack, jumped to the lead, only to fall at the 37 kilometer mark.

At these first modern Olympic Games in Athens, on April 10, 1896, 80,000 people sat in the Panathenaic Stadium waiting, listening to updates brought in by messengers on bicycles or horses. This was the scene of the very first marathon, an event created for the first Olympic Games. A colleague of Pierre de Coubertin, Michel Bréal, transformed a legendary story of a man named Pheidippides into an Olympic event. In 492 BC, Pheidippides ran from a place called Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 42 kilometers, to deliver new of a Greek victory over Persia, in what is called the Battle of Marathon.

So when the spectators in Panathenaic Stadium saw who was first to enter the stadium, an explosive cheer split the sky. A Greek named Spyridon Louis was to win the final event of the first modern Olympic Games in the spiritual home of the Olympics. Here is how David Goldblatt, author of the book, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, described the significance of that moment:

It proved to be the most important event of the games, generating the kind of modern mythological hero and collective stadium spectacle that raised the 1896 Olympics above the level of a country-house games weekend or a mere historical recreation…. The man who entered the stadium first was the Greek, Spyridon Louis. The crowd went wild. The king and the crown prince descended to the track to run alongside him and, when the had finished the race, members of the royal entourage and the organizing committee embraced and kissed him.

Coubertin was also impressed, according to Goldblatt. “Egad! The excitement and the enthusiasm were simply indescribably. One of the most extraordinary sights that I can remember. Its imprint stays with me.”

Spyridon Louis

Louis was not a man of wealth. He made his wages by transporting mineral water his father mined to buyers in Athens. After his victory, Louis was showered with gifts, but continued to live a simple life of a farmer and later as a police officer.

Four years prior to his death in 1940, forty years after his momentous victory in the marathon, he could still remember that moment of glory with happiness.

That hour was something unimaginable and it still appears to me in my memory like a dream … Twigs and flowers were raining down on me. Everybody was calling out my name and throwing their hats in the air …