By Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The Greek capital welcomed the beginning of spring and the tourism season with the 6th edition of the Athens Half Marathon on Sunday.
In a record turnout for the annual sports and cultural event, more than 21,000 runners from Greece and all around the world participated in the 20 kilometers course and parallel racing events, including races for people with disabilities.
Amateur runners, ranging in age from children to pensioners, showed up at the starting line in front of the Greek parliament and ran alongside athletes aiming to break their own records. The event aims to promote healthier lifestyles and to celebrate life, according to the Hellenic Athletics Federation (SEGAS) and the Municipality of Athens, the event's co-organizers.
The big winner was Yannis Zervakis, a runner from Crete, crossing the finish line in front of Syntagma square at 1:09:03.
In an event focsed on fun (where time records, medals and trophies are of minor importance compared to other competitive races) the thousands of spectators along the course warmly applauded all participants.
"It is a day of celebration for classic athletics. Bravo! Bravo! Everybody was cheering along the course. For me this is the best race after the classic marathon," Zervakis told Xinhua.
The Greek athlete says he welcomes any event which allows people to run on the streets of a city free of vehicles.
SEGAS and the City of Athens have also been organizing the Athens Marathon for decades on the city's authentic course. It's a race first run 25 centuries ago by messenger Pheidippides who inspired the race.
"It is a celebration which offers Athenians and visitors the opportunity to leave their homes and have fun running... There were many participants in the one kilometer and three kilometers courses for children, and this is very encouraging because we pass on to younger generations the mindset of lifelong exercise," Xenia Argitaki, Vice President of SEGAS and member of the Executive Committee of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, explained.
The Athens Half Marathon is held under the auspices of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO). Its appeal has already expanded beyond Greece's boundaries, and organizers hope that it will evolve into a significant highlight in the coming years, which will attract more and more foreign visitors.
Giovanni T. from Barcelona was among foreigners who travelled to sunny Athens to join the fun.
"It was tough. It was really hard, but here in Athens the half marathon has a special aspect for us to come here. It is the original marathon, where it all began, so it was a nice day even if it was a tough one," he told Xinhua.
Dimitris Patmanidis, another amateur runner, encourages people, regardless of age or profession, to join them in the next race.
Patmanidis took up running four years ago. Exercise improved his health and mentality in front of obstacles in everyday life.
"The only thing I can say to people, whether one may choose running or other sports activities is that it is very important, first of all for himself/herself, and then also for their families," he said.