In the first modern Olympics in 1896 the marathon captured the imagination of the host Greek nation more than any other event. As the race progressed, many of the 17 competitors dropped out. At about the 34-kilometer mark Spyridon Louis, a 24-year-old Greek farmer, caught race leader Edwin Flack of Australia, who had won the 880-yard run just the day before. Louis gradually pulled away from Flack, who soon dropped out. When Louis entered the stadium alone, Greek's Prince George and Crown Prince Constantine went down to the track and ran alongside Lewis, escorting him to the finish line in front of 100 000 cheering spectators.
Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia pulled off an unprecedented triple at the 1952 Olympics, winning the 5 000m, 10 000m and the marathon.
The women's marathon wasn't introduced as an Olympic event until the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. With Grete Waitz and Rosa Mota in the field, few expected America's Joan Benoit to lead the pack over 42km. She stunned the marathon legends, winning the event with a time of 2:24:5.
Zatopek had never run a marathon previously, so he seeked out the world record holder Jim Peters of Great Britain, a pre-race favorite. Zatopek passed Peters before the midpoint of the race, however, and had to run alone. Nevertheless, he went on to set his third Olympic record in a one-week span, with a winning time of 2:23:03.2.
Joan Benoit of the United States wins the first Olympic women's marathon.