Spyros Gianniotis & Co Head For The Authentic Swimming Marathon 2,500 Years After Skyllias & Hydna

Spyros Gianniotis_by Elias Lefas
Spyros Gianniotis - Photo Courtesy: Elias Lefas

Greek open-water ace Spyros Gianniotis will lead the shoal out for The Authentic Marathon Swim at Artemision this September, 2,500 years after Skyllias and Hydna, recorded by Herodotus as the first long-distance swimmers in history, swam the same course.

The Authentic Marathon Swim, originally due to have unfolded last weekend, was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will now take place on September 4-6. Racing takes place over 10km, 3km and 1.5km, as well as an 800m race for youngsters, action to unfold at Pefki, Evia in the Municipality of Istiaia-Edipsos.

Skyllias and his daughter Hydna, both of whom helped Greece in the historical naval battle of Artemision in the year 480 B.C, swam the same course, their exploits narrated by the historian Herodutus in one of his chronicles. This story implies that Skyllias was a Greek double agent in the Persian fleet.

In gratitude for the heroism shown by Hydna and her father, the Amphictyons dedicated statues to them at Delphi, the most sacred site of the Greek world.

According to Pausanias, a Greek traveler and geographer of the second century AD who lived in the time of Roman emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, Hydna and her father, Scyllis, volunteered to assist Greek forces by vandalizing the nearby Persian naval fleet. The story is told by Pausanias in his classic “Description of Greece”.

According to the Pausanias, Persian king Xerxes I had moored his ships off the coast of Mount Pelion to wait out a storm prior to the Battle of Artemisium. Hydna was well known in Greece as a skilled swimmer who could keep swimming for very long distances and had the ability to “dive deep into the ocean”. She had been coached by her father, a professional swim instructor named Scyllias, from a young age.


A painting of Skyllias and his daughter Hydna in action – from the International Swimming Hall of Fame archive – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia:

“On the night of the attack, father and daughter swam roughly ten miles through rough, choppy waters to reach the ships. They silently swam among the boats, using knives to cut the moorings and dragging away the submerged anchors. Without anchors and moorings to secure the ships, they crashed together in the stormy water. Most of the ships sustained considerable damage and a few sank. The resulting delay allowed the Greek navy more time to prepare in Artemisium and ultimately led to a victory for Greek forces at Salamis.”


Impressive drone footage from Pefki, Evia – Photo Courtesy: the Municipality of Istiaia-Edipsos/ Picasa

Well, there won’t be any of that this time round at The Authentic Swimming Marathon – though if any could endure such things, the open water swimmer is surely near the front of the shoal among candidates.

Back in 2013, Spyridon Gianniotis kept the 10km marathon world crown on his head when he clocked 1hr 49.11.8 to get the better of Thomas Lurz (GER) and Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli (TUN) at the FINA showcase championship. Lurz was 2.7 seconds off the winning pace by the close, Mellouli 7.4sec from gold that day at Moll de la Fusta, Barcelona.

Born to an English mum in Liverpool, the home of The Beatles, 40 years ago, Gianniotis was 33 when he attacked the final lap of the Moll de la Fusta port race as the pacesetter who could not be caught. In victory, he became only the second man to successfully defend the 10km crown after Russia’s Vladimir Dyatchin in 2008 (in 2014 the Russian was suspended for two years for doping and announced his retirement when the verdict came in).

“I was very close to the podium at the Olympics and I was very upset,”  Giannotis told reporters back in 2013. At the London 2012 Olympics, he finished fourth less than 5sec off the podium occupied by Mellouli, as champion, Lurz and Canadian Richard Weinberger. Said Gianniotis that day:

“This year, here, today I was stubborn and I wanted to do it and I told myself that the Olympics was just a bad trip. I said to myself on the last lap give it everything and it was totally positive. The last 20 metres were very, very, very hard but I had the psychology and the will power.”

The race was not only close but rough. Brian Ryckeman, of Belgium, was among those bearing the scars of a bloody battle: the scratch marks running down his right shoulder reflected the darker side of open water swimming. Gergely Gyurta, the Hungarian younger brother of Olympic and world champion over 200m breaststroke Daniel, required medical assistance after sustaining head injuries. One observer said: “He looked like a water polo player who just came from the centre forward position.”

Gyurta, 23sec from gold in 18th, weighed in with:

“They kicked, they hit and elbowed me at each turn, there was no mercy. Even my goggles were kicked off in the second lap.”

Lurz said that he lost time “fighting” at the buoys. “It was very bad. And it’s always the guys not finishing in the first positions. I want to swim and not fight. It just costs power. But that’s open water.”

Mellouli’s take:  “Every time I tried to move he got super physical, so I couldn’t move.”

But Gianniotis, a seasoned open water contender, enjoyed the brawl:

“You’re going to get hit, you’re going to get pushed. It’s rough.”

Three years on at Rio 2016, many more prizes in his pantheon, Gianniotis took silver in the Marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games behind Ferry Weertman, the Dutchman with the best Twitter handle in swimming (@VeryFerryFast).

The Authentic Marathon Swim 2020

Attila Manyoki

Hungarian ultra-marathon swimmer and Oceans Seven holder, Attila Manyoki – Photo Courtesy – Attila Manyoki

Beyond Gianniotis, The Authentic Swimming Marathon will feature Hungarian ultra-marathon swimmer, Oceans Seven holder and member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Attila Manyoki. European champion George Arniakos, Greek champions Dimitris Negris, Andreas Georgakopoulos, Stellina Aplanti, Ilektra Lebl, Dutch swimmer George Skotadis, English Channel marathon swimmer Giannis Kotsiopoulos and pool champion Nikolaos Simantiras will also race. Gianniotis said:

“Marathon swimming is once again at the forefront with a historic race. Through our presence we honor history by reviving the legendary achievements of Skylias and Hydna at the straits of Artemision. I call on all swimmers, regardless of their level and ability, to embrace this effort and experience the legend, while safely enjoying the blue-green waters of Northern Evia”.

Manyoki added:

“Open water is my passion. I must fight against the nature and also my inner fears and limits. The sea is open for everybody. The only thing that is important is how much you want it. It’s an ancient sport with 2,500 years of history that revives in this event. I will jump in the sea and follow its tradition and great history”.

The Authentic Swimming Marathon: Saturday, September 5 will feature the 3km and 1.5km open water swimming races, while Sunday, September 6 will see the revival of the authentic 10km marathon swimming route, the children’s 800m taking part simultaneously.

The Authentic Swimming Marathon Entries: The event, always prioritizing the participants themselves, offers a refund of their registration costs until July 31.

Accommodation packages at the Municipality of Istiaia-Edipsos

The Authentic Swimming Marathon has connected with local hospitality providers: special offers and prices start from 40 euros, the following partnering the event with offers: Maria Louiza Apartments, Hotel 40 Platania, Altamar Hotel, Ellaeon Throesma, Galini Hotel Edipsos, Ilios Studios, Villa Anastasia, Aenaon Studios, Aktaion Hotel, Alex Spa Hotel, Arethousa Hotel, Artemis Rooms Pefki, Evia Dream, Galini Hotel Pefki, Irene Studios, Island, Kochili Apartments, Lito Hotel, Papadioti Apartments.

The Authentic Swimming Marathon – Further Information