Contend is a Global Positioning System (GPS) image of a 15-mile performance/run that I completed after learning about Stamata Revithi, a woman who ran the marathon in the 1896 Olympic games in Athens, the first modern Olympics. Though women were not allowed to compete, Revithi ran the marathon in the hopes of achieving recognition. Very little is known about her but eyewitness accounts verify her completion of the race.
It was later reported that a woman named Melpomene also ran the marathon, but nothing else is known of her. Melpomene is the name of the Greek Muse of Tragedy, and thus could have been 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 thus omitted as an event of significance. Instead of Revithi being remembered for her run, her story is virtually forgotten, and overshadowed by a lack of credibility.
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.
I chose GPS imaging as my only form of documentation. The word “contend” is forever written on the city that I live in, but will never be visible to the naked eye. It echoes the lack of visibility that Revithi herself experienced once she completed her marathon, and even the lack of recognition and visibility female athletes experience today.
Contend also exists as an interactive document. The route can be explored by installing Google Earth and opening the file. Viewing the route this way demonstrates in greater detail the lack of accuracy in recording via GPS. The route deviates from the road and the sidewalk and instead traverses through barriers and over buildings. The meandering line approximates the real route that I ran in the same way that the stories of Revithi approximate the truth about her accomplishment.
Through the research I have done on female runners, I see the impetus for the act of a woman running as an act of resistance. Revithi was not only the first female Olympic competitor, but also first Olympic protester. Contend recalls Revithi’s achievement and also implicates my own body in this history. Women were not granted their own Olympic Marathon until 88 years later, at the 1984 Games (the year of my birth). I chose the word "contend" because it means both "to compete" and also "to assert a right."