Inside Syria: a history of the Olympic marathon

Running 10 times around a triathlon course and swimming 17km in the lake, Run began in Syria around a century ago. Today, it is a well-known sports tournament hosted throughout the country by Olympic officials, involving more than 2,000 athletes and taking place in locations both urban and rural.

A convoy of about 20 vehicles receives cars and other forms of sporting equipment, which are then driven to the venue and distributed to athletes who register to compete on arrival. Medals and trophies are then handed out to those who have completed a round of the race. Even though runners are expected to cover an average of almost 400 kilometres, team strength is still a key factor in the success of the event, particularly given the quality of the terrain involved.

If the water’s too cold, they can push out in -10C, or if it’s too hot, they can stop and walk for a few hours. So it’s worth the effort. The longest run is usually more than two days.

Historically the run has included attempts to break the world record for running a distance, though this is not currently held, nor is there much official effort to achieve it. Though specific records for distances run and swims have never been set by the hundreds of entrants who are drawn to this event.

The first official Olympic edition was held in Damascus in August 1936. In that year the game of 3-up was trialled. A tournament was held three times before an agreement was reached between the officials and the federation of sport between 1933 and 1935. All countries involved could send up to six athletes.

A game of sizzling pool hockey, a sport similar to football, was played over a period of 24 hours between 1942 and 1945. In that tournament, Syria beat the UK 7-4 to record their first-ever win at the Olympics.

Syrian Olympians are still the most successful in the sporting spectrum, having won six gold medals and 22 bronzes.

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