Stamata Revithi: The First Woman To Compete in the Olympics

Originally from the Greek island of Syros, Stamata Revithi was a mother of two who lived in the city of Piraeus. In 1896, tired of living in poverty, she decided to walk to Athens in search of better job opportunities. During her 5.6-mile journey, Stamata met a male runner on the road who suggested she ran the first modern Olympic marathon which would happen in the following days. He believed this would allow her to gain fame, and consequently, find a job and earn money. Stamata agreed it was a great idea: she used to enjoy long-distance running as a child, so she believed she could definitely beat the male competitors in the event.

However, the first modern Olympic Games excluded female participants from the competition. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the visionary behind the modern revival of the multi-sport event, wanted to follow the ancient Olympic Games tradition, which only allowed men to compete. In fact, he believed that women should not compete in sports in general. To him, a woman’s greatest achievement would be to encourage her sons to be distinguished in sports and support them.

The rules were not enough to stop Stamata. She arrived at the small village of Marathon a day before the big race and was invited by the mayor to take shelter at his home. On the morning of April 10th, prior to the start of the race, the old priest of Marathon blessed the male athletes but refused to bless Stamata. Then, the organizing committee refused her entry into the race claiming she had missed the deadline for participation and promised she would compete with a team of American women in a different race in Athens – which never happened.

From eight o’clock the next morning, Stamata ran the marathon course on her own. She had gotten the signature of the town’s only teacher, the mayor and the city magistrate to testify to the time she departed from the village. She finished the 40-kilometer race at 13:30 and told reporters she would like to meet the General-Secretary of the Hellenic Olympic Committee to show him her documents. She hoped that would make them recognize her achievement, but they never did. It was only in the 1984 Olympics that women were finally allowed to run the Olympic marathon.