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Advancing Marathon and Olympic Events in a Globalized Era: Does Commitment to Fitness Have Diplomatic Limits?

Denis Bright invites discussion of the significance of Marathon and Olympic Events in a Globalized Era. Are their limits to fitness generated diplomacy to promote international togetherness?

Aeons before recent corporate sponsored marathon and Olympic events, the legend of Pheidippides’ arrival in Athens from Marathon in 490 BC was incorporated into contemporary folklore about the high stakes competitive feats of endurance.

French artist Luc-Oliver Merson (1846-1920) reconstructed the arrival of Pheidippides as the classic diplomatic messenger in his acclaimed painting from 1869. In this reconstruction of historical myth, the brave Pheidippides ran back to Athens with a mix of good fortune at the Battle of Marathon and bad vibes about the forthcoming naval attack on Athens by the Persians. Noting the strategic redeployment of the Athenian Army, the Persians decided not to attack Athens.

The marathon as a metaphor for stoic endurance in the face of adversity had been created. In the Modern Olympics, Marathon events had a special significance. During the first modern Olympics, Spyros Louis (1873-1940) completed the marathon in just under three hours in 1896.

Cheering on Risk-Taking Fitness and Commitment

Forty years later Spyros Louis was guest of honour at the Berlin Olympics and marched at the head of the Greek men’s team as it entered the stadium.

Hitler was presented with an olive sapling from Olympia by Spyros Louis as a symbol of peace from his homeland (Pappas Post Online 2016). Soon Greece would be an occupied country.

As in the days of the legendary Pheidippides, desperate times called for desperate and risk-taking strategies. However, the polite gesture from Spyros Louis did not appease Hitler.

Moves to boycott the summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936 gained some limited traction in the US.

Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, president of the Amateur Athletic Union, supported the boycott. He pointed out that Germany had broken Olympic rules forbidding discrimination based on race and religion. In his view, participation would indicate an endorsement of Hitler’s Reich.

The case for participating in the 1936 Olympics in the interests of international solidarity soon triumphed with support from the Roosevelt Administration in the US. Perhaps reason would also prevail through international solidarity towards the Olympic Movement.

Could Jesse Owens’ four track and field goal medals in Berlin challenge a host regime or even the US Homeland with its own commitment to racial superiority.

The irony of racial prejudice in the US Homeland was noted in a recent article in the Atlantic Online by Marina Koren (29 September 2016):

In 1936, 18 African American athletes left the Berlin Olympics with 14 medals, a quarter of the total medals won by the U.S. team that summer. They returned to a segregated United States, where the American public mostly celebrated their victories—but their president didn’t.

“Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me,” said Jesse Owens, the 23-year-old track star who won four gold medals, of Franklin Roosevelt. “The president didn’t even send a telegram.”

The New York Marathon and the World Marathon Majors

The profiles of the Olympic Movement and a series of Global Network Major Events are so entrenched that attempts at political boycotts usually have limited traction, regardless of the situation.

The New York Marathon on 5 November 2017 with its 55,000 participants is a symbol of popular togetherness and fitness in action. Today’s events attract the patronage of major corporations.

The major sponsor of the New York Marathon is the Indian multinational firm, Tata Consultancy. It is supported by major sponsors under contractual arrangements which extend to 2021.

human capacity and endurance with a groundswell of community support.

Charities are supported by revenue from sweep-stakes as well as fund-raising by participating teams, corporate and community donations.

Exotic Lesser Known Marathon Events

Similar events have been held in most countries from underdeveloped locations to global political trouble-spots.

In the tall shadow of the Global Marathon Majors, participants have been asked to register for 2018 events with a long-standing history from the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon in Zimbabwe to Pyongyang Marathon in North Korea. Both events have generated their well-constructed Facebook Pages.

The Pyongyang Marathon on 8 April 2018 comes with a heavy price tag for registration and travel with Koryo Tours. However, the invitation is not without its subtle narcissistic appeal to overseas competitors.

“We are proud to present the 29th Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon – the Pyongyang Marathon – to everyone which will take place on Sunday April 8, 2018. You can again hit the streets of Pyongyang to run in the 10km, half or full marathon races. All races will start and finish inside Kim Il Sung Stadium in front of a crowd of 50,000 people cheering you on – it’s the closest experience to being in the Olympics!”

Australian athletes are quite able to participate in the Pyongyang Marathon but face a similar problem to Pheidippides’ mission to Sparta or the participation of Jesse Owens and Spyros Louis in the Berlin Olympics.

This account does not end in negativity about participation in global marathon events and Olympic venues.

In this new age of political intolerance, bringing nations out of political isolation from humanity, is still a risk worth taking.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.


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  1. Patty

    Denis, Thank you for an interesting historical commentary on marathons and Olympic events. Looking forward to the Gold Coast Comm games.

  2. Mia

    I enjoyed learning about the history of the origin of the first marathon and subsequent events such as the Olympics .
    Events that bring people of all nationalities together in sporting events such as these give participants and supporters an opportunity to mingle with people of other nationalities in a positive way .

  3. Maria H

    Hopefully these events build trust and acceptance where political leaders have sometimes fed on undermining international relations .

  4. Lalnama

    Couldn’t agree more Denis, sport stil & will in the future overcome political issues , & those issues that divide us.
    Sport unites , brings joy, and cooperation uniting people of all nations. Thank goodness on many levels for sport

  5. Pat

    Interesting article – thank you for bringing this topic to my attention.

  6. Rubio@Coast

    Always a place for sport in diplomacy: Thanks for your interpretation, Denis

  7. Paul

    Sporting can bring countries and communities together! There is something about the shared experience of participants in these events that bring about a sense of togetherness!

    If these events, bring money to the towns hosting them, get people off the couch and make people feel healthier, I say go for it.

    Thanks for the article Denis! It’s always great to hear about the history of the first marathon. And congrats to all those people out there having a go and participating in events themselves or via spectating.

  8. Tessa

    Sport has a great power to bring people together! Great article Denis.

  9. Jim

    Fittness trumps commitment to war in Korea: If the Pyongyang Marathon helps, let’s support it.

  10. Pro-Sport

    Unlike politics,sporting events have some accountability which rhetorical debate cannot conceal. Good on the competitors who seek fame at the next Pyongyang Marathon

  11. Harquebus

    Spectator sport’s only useful purpose is, in my opinion, for the emotional stimulation of those who need it and to regiment the participants who in general, are not trained to think.
    I think that the government should abandon the sport and arts ministries and have nothing to do with either.

    Search criteria: abandoned olympic venues

  12. Stella

    Interesting article Denis, thank you for your insights.

  13. Kris

    A peaceful solution to challenging issues – brings everyone together

  14. Patrick

    Opening up Zimbabwe worked well with the leadership transition in Harare with a respectful place for Robert Mugane: Next stop Pyongyang

  15. James

    Patrick, North Korea the next country to open up? That’d be good.
    I’m certain China could fix the NK problem in a month, if it was to their advantage.

    Zimbabwe just had what looks like a bloodless coup, at least no blood this last week, forget the previous 40 years, that’s another story. The back-story that links to the Chinese military will never make it into Australian living rooms, at least not on Murdoch’s watch. A docile and ignorant audience is a good audience.

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