When Olympic dreams fail

Today is the day the Olympic Torch comes through my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Hopefully the rain will stop in time for my daughter and I to line the streets and watch the symbol of hope and unity jog past in the sweaty palm of one of the inspiring torchbearers who have been nominated for their contribution to their community. Good for them. But for me, today is a bitter sweet day.

For the last 18 months I’ve been living with the hope that my play Marathon, about the first woman Olympic marathon runner at the 1896 games, would be performed today as part of the Cultural Olympiad. The play has a wonderful producer (Pete Mortimer from Cloud Nine Productions) and a pretty decent scriptwriter (moi) and has almost been taken on by two of the region’s leading theatres. I even had an endorsement from Olympic Women, an organisation promoting greater awareness of women athletes through history. And yet, somehow, it never happened. Overfull programmes, shortage of cash, etc etc etc.

I’m disappointed. I’m very disappointed. I’ve been working on this play for the last four years. And to be so close then to fall at the final hurdle is heartbreaking. Will there be another chance for this play? There might be. Perhaps I could re-brand it without the Olympic connection (though that might be difficult), or perhaps I can just pull myself together and re-pitch it for the next Olympics. But those games will be in Brazil, not London, and the whole country will no longer be tuning in to all things Olympic. That on the other hand could be in my favour …

But one thing I do know is that I will not give up. How can I when Stamata never did?

Stamata Revithi was a young peasant woman who lived near Athens. She was widowed and had recently lost her eldest child to malnutrition. When she heard that a huge sporting contest that was going to be seen by the leaders of Greece and important people around the world was coming to her home town, she thought this was her opportunity to change her situation. Being a gifted long-distance runner she decided to enter the marathon. Her plan was to run the race and attract the attention of the King of Greece. She then intended to beg him to help her and her family. However, what Stamata didn’t know, was that Pierre de Coubertin, one of the founders of the modern Olympic movement, was passionately opposed to women participating in sport. He thought that their presence would sully the Olympic ideal. Women weren’t allowed in the ancient games and they would not be allowed in his. When she was told this at the starting line in Marathon, she decided to run anyway. History is unclear as to whether she did it on the day of the men’s race or the next day on her own. In my play I have chosen to show it on the same day. She ran the race but when she got to Athens she was not allowed to enter the stadium. Undeterred, she intended to go the full distance, so she ran around the outside of the stadium on her own. What an amazing woman.

I’m sure you’ve got your own story of a failed dream. Most of us do. But be encouraged by Stamata’s story and never give up. As my twitter pal Mike Wells pointed out today: ‘The most important advice I can give to anyone who is struggling to be successful at anything, is simply: Never give up.’

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