ATHENS, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of people took to the streets of central Athens around the parliament building on Sunday to participate in a series of fun races rather than one of the anti-austerity protests which have hit the city over the past three years.
More than 10,000 Greeks of various ages and social groups took part in the 2nd annual Athens Half Marathon race and parallel racing events organized by the Hellenic Athletics Federation (SEGAS) and the Municipality of Athens.
On a bright spring day under a clear sky, entire families, groups of friends and co-workers and school children to pensioners seized the rare opportunity to run along some of most historic and areas of Athens and "celebrate life", as organizers suggested.
Starting from Syntagma square, as the Municipality's Philharmonic Band was performing, runners flooded the streets competing in several races, such as the Half Marathon Race, a five kilometer and a three kilometer road race, as well as a 600 meters race for people with disabilities and Special Olympics athletes.
"The joy of competition as taught by the Olympic spirit is the biggest winner" was the key phrase on the lips of runners and spectators who were cheering along the course and at the finish line at the yard of Zappeion Mansion, near the Panathinaikon stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held back in 1896.
Greek athletes Costas Poulios and Magda Gazea won the first place among men and women respectively, but all participants felt like winners.
"Every race has difficulties. I have taken part in a lot of long distance marathons and it's always great to see people enjoying it. The race had a certain point of difficulty, but I am very happy with the result," marathon runner Antonis Papadimitriou, who finished third, told Xinhua.
All people who showed up for the city's running festival on Sunday did not care for trophies, but some celebration amid difficult times for debt-ridden Greece.
"Sports play a vital role in our life and such celebrations are very important. They give the opportunity to all people to express themselves and to be winners. Such events award above all the participation and then the performance," SEGAS' Technical Administrator Evangelos Papapostolou told Xinhua.
A few steps further 79 year old Yiorgos Zervos and 74 year old Manolis Maroudakis were celebrating among youth.
"It's the third time we take part in a marathon race. We hope we can repeat it next time. It's a wonderful experience. These events must happen so we can show our youth," they said.
"We came with our children to take part in the half marathon as we wanted to give our message against violence with our own way. It was a great race; the most important for us was to enjoy it - which we did - and to have a great time with our children in this sunny day," 48 year old Vassilis Giannakopoulos added.
Organizers of the Athens Half Marathon hope that the event will evolve into a significant highlight over the next years which will be attracting more and more locals and visitors, as it has happened with the Athens Classic Marathon race which is held each autumn at the authentic course covered by a Greek soldier 2,500 years ago.
"It's a beautiful day with many smiles in the centre of Athens. More than 10,000 people from Athens and other places participated in our races and filled us with positive thinking," SEGAS' President Kostas Panagopoulos told Xinhua.
"This charming city can offer many celebrations of culture and sports, which will get bigger and bigger as the years go by. We hope that in the future this race will attract not only Greek people, but also runners from other countries who would like to feel the spirit of Greek marathon with a mini excursion in our historic city" he said.