On June 13, 2014, I completed a 15 mile run in honor of Stamata Revithi, a 30 year old woman who ran the marathon in the 1896 Olympic Games (the first modern Olympics), even though women were not allowed to compete. It was also reported that another woman named Melpomene ran the course, but since nothing else is known of her, many believe that these two women were actually the same person.
Melpomene is the name of the Greek Muse of Tragedy, and thus could be Revithi’s pseudonym, referring to the denial of her achievement. The records of the run(s) were not recognized by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, and very little is known about the women, even whether or not they actually existed. Instead of Revithi/Melpomene being remembered for her run, she was excluded from history.
For this work, I traversed a section of Chicago beginning at my home and ending at Lake Michigan. I tracked myself with GPS and spelled out the word “CONTEND” as a small gesture towards the forgotten woman/en. This dismissed piece of history that should have been well recorded suggests that even not so long ago, a legend worthy of a Greek Myth was witnessed.
I was inspired to make this work while training for my first half marathon and investigating the history of women’s running. The tragic story of Revithi and the mystery behind her life compelled me to make a work that honors her achievement in a small way. Working with GPS also speaks to the ephemerality of running as a writing tool, and even the authenticity of images and stories that cannot be verified.
Women were not granted their own Olympic Marathon until 88 years later, at the 1984 Games (the year of my birth). I have done this run as a gesture towards the first female Olympic competitor and the first Olympic protester. I chose the word “CONTEND” because it means both “to compete” and also “to assert a right.”