The Breal’s Silver Cup, which stands just six inches tall, has been described as one of the most important pieces of memorabilia associated with the Games.
When it was sold in April by the grandson of the victor, Greek athlete Spyros Louis, it smashed the previous auction record for an Olympic artifact.
The Athens-based Stavros Niarchos Foundation paid more than 650,000 euros ($814,000)to acquire the cup. It said it wanted to keep it in Greece, which won it 116 years ago and is now in its deepest recession since World War Two.
“In these tough times, all Greeks must follow the bravery, resilience and fighting spirit that made Spyros Louis win,” Andreas Dracopoulos, head of the foundation, said on Monday when the trophy went on display.
“We must work hard, this time not to win a cup but to stand, proud, on our feet again.”
Athens’ Acropolis museum will keep the cup, named after French philologist Michel Breal, until September 2013. It will eventually go on display in a planned new cultural centre.
Louis was the only Greek athlete to win at the 14-nation 1896 Games in Athens. He finished the 25-mile (40-km) race first after the previous leader, Australian Edwin Flack, collapsed in the final stages.
He was hailed as a national hero and presented with the cup, a silver medal, an antique vase, an olive branch and a diploma by Greece’s King George I.
The marathon devised for the 1896 Games was inspired by the legendary run of Pheidippides to carry the news of victory by the ancient Greeks in battle over the Persians. He died moments after delivering the message, according to the story.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who visited the museum on Monday, said the trophy’s purchase and return to Greece at a time of crisis was symbolic.
“We will win this marathon, we will overcome the hurdles,” Samaras said.
“This cup is a symbol of the victory we owe to our history, ourselves and our children.”