When the idea of a modern Olympics became a reality at the end of the 19th century, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the ancient glory of Greece. The idea of organizing a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens…
The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon on 10 March 1896 that was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes (with the future winner of the introductory Olympic Games marathon coming in fifth).
The winner of the first Olympic Marathon, on 10 April 1896, was Spiridon “Spiros” Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
(via Black and WTF)