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Olympic marathon cup from 1896 sells for record price at auction

(Christie's Images)

The cup awarded to the first Olympic marathon winner sold for a record $868,000 at an auction this week in London.

Greek farmer Spiridon Louis earned the Breal Cup for winning the marathon at the 1896 Olympics in Athens. The grandson of the national hero put the artifact up for sale.

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Christie's auction house said that there was a "heated" battle between six bidders for the cup. The eventual winner was a Greek foundation that plans to make the cup a centerpiece of a cultural center set to open in 2015.

The final sale price was more than double the previous high auction price for a piece of Olympics memorabilia. Last year, a torch from the 1952 Helsinki Games was sold for $400,000 in Paris.

The cup was named after Michel Breal, a French linguist who suggested in 1894 that the first modern Olympics include the marathon, the famed race from ancient Greek texts. Breal offered up the cup as part of his proposal.

Louis outlasted 16 competitors to win the highly anticipated race. As Olympic historians David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky note in their "Complete Book of the Olympics," Louis drank milk and beer before his race, ate an Easter egg during and, at the end, took a sip of cognac after mistaking it for water.

More then 100,000 of his countrymen saw him run into Panathinkaikos Stadium. He crossed the finish line flanked by two Greek princes, who had descended to the track to congratulate him.

"Deep down I hope that the cup remains in Greece," his grandson said on Wednesday, "but no matter where it ends up, it will forever represent the glory of my country, and I have no doubt that the new owner will treasure it as we have done."

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