Kenyan marathon runner Gladys Cherono (C), Greek marathon runners Maria Polyzou (R) and Spyros Andriopoulos (L) attend the ceremony in Marathon, Greece, Nov. 10, 2018. A Chinese statue donated by the Nanjing municipal government to Marathon city was unveiled during the Flame Lighting Ceremony on Saturday in Marathon, 42 kilometers northeast of Athens, capital of Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
MARATHON, Greece, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese statue donated by the Nanjing Municipal Government to Marathon city was unveiled during the Flame Lighting Ceremony on Saturday in Marathon, 42 kilometers northeast from the center of the Greek capital.
A day before the annual 36th Athens Authentic Marathon, Greek and Chinese officials presented the Archway steel sculpture to the audience to celebrate the establishment of sister city ties between the historic cities of Marathon and Nanjing.
The ceremony was attended by Chinese Ambassador to Greece Zhang Qiyue, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of Nanjing Municipal People's Congress Long Xiang, the Mayor of Marathon Ilias Psinakis, the Greek Deputy Minister for Sports and Culture Giorgos Vassiliadis, as well veteran athletes and tourists from across the globe, including China.
"We present the sculpture which is inspired by the ancient Greek Marathon hero Pheidippides, while it adopts cultural elements from China and Nanjing like plum blossoms. It has elements of both countries," Long Xiang said addressing the ceremony.
In 2016, Marathon signed a sister city agreement with Nanjing.
"This commemorative sculpture sets a milestone in the history of the cultural exchange and the cooperation between the cities of Nanjing and Marathon," Long Xiang added.
In line with Long Xiang, Chinese Ambassador to Greece Zhang Qiyue said that the statue witnessed the friendship between Nanjing and Marathon, as well as China and Greece.
For the Greek part, the mayor of Marathon Ilias Psinakis thanked the Chinese delegation for the sculpture donation, praising the bilateral relations the two countries share.
"The Chinese President in his effort to revive the Silk Road, envisaging a China linked to Europe through Greece, has contributed in many sectors in our country, like culture, sports and economy," Psinakis said.
"In the process of jointly building 'Belt and Road', we will not only find mutual benefit solution on economic cooperation but also make efforts to promote people-to-people bonds. Regarding people-to-people bonds, exchanges on culture, sports and Marathon sports can promote our knowledge and friendship," Zhang noted.
After the inauguration ceremony, the Kenyan marathon runner Gladys Cherono along with the Greek marathon runners Maria Polyzou and Spyros Andriopoulos walked through the Archway and lit the altar with the Marathon Flame together spreading the message of friendship and cooperation among people of the world.
The Athens Marathon race originates from the historic battle between Greeks and Persian forces in Marathon city 2,500 years ago.
According to legend, Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory and died of exhaustion.
Since the birth of the Marathon race in the 1896 Athens Olympic Games, thousands of runners have followed his steps from Marathon to the Panathinaikon Stadium, and millions around the world have taken part in similar marathons.
Approximately 18,870 runners from across the globe will run the 42-kilometer distance this year. A total of 55,000 people will participate in all the races on Sunday, such as the five- and ten-kilometer races and the race for people with special needs and abilities, breaking last year's record of 51,000 participants.
Organizers said the Athens Marathon has contributed to the extension of the tourism season. Hotels are currently at 70 percent occupancy, and visitors are expected to spend 25 million euros in the five days' stay in the Greek capital.