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Olympic Runner, Filmmaker Shares Olympic Values Through Art

IOC/Nelson Chaves
03 Apr 2018
Olympism in Action Forum
Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American long-distance runner who competed on behalf of Greece at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. She is also the director, writer, producer and actress behind Tracktown – and an artist-in-residence at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.


In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we looked at groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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“There was a speaker at my university who gave us this advice: ‘If you want to change the world, you can probably work for a non-profit or do charity work. But if you do something you’re passionate about at the highest level, you’re changing the world.’ For Olympic athletes, sports and athletics, can feel like something selfish, but actually, if you do something with integrity and at the highest level, that is contributing to the world.”

“At Rio, I created history for Greece by being the first female Greek athlete to ever compete in the 10,000 metres. I was creating history for a country where long-distance running was born, where the Olympics were born. I ran a national record and personal best in a world-record breaking race. There was a moment during the race in which I realised ‘I’m doing something that’s never been done before, among people who are also doing something that’s never been done before.’”

“I think that sports are performances, and art is obviously a performance. As an athlete, I put on makeup before my races when I don’t wear a lot of makeup otherwise. I asked myself the other day, ‘why do I do that?’ It’s because I’m there to perform.”

“My goal as an athlete is to creatively capture my real, authentic Olympic experience. It’s one thing to see the Games from afar on television and see the competitions. But from my experience, the most special moments were those moments in the dining halls between competitions, the life in the Village, the moments during practice, the things that people have never seen before.”


“The Olympic artists-in-residence programme started in Rio, which was actually my first Olympics as an athlete. I remember there were artists making projects there. When I got the call from President Bach asking if I wanted to be included as a filmmaker in this year’s Winter Olympics, I was thrilled and honoured to be able to capture my Olympic experience though my art and to create something that we haven’t seen before. I want to show a side of the Games that we haven’t seen before.”

“Our film project is about a first-time Olympian, Penelope, who goes to the Games with a whole lifetime of preparation and goal-setting. When she gets there, she performs at her personal best in cross-country skiing, (which I thought was comparable to my real sport, long distance running,) but she is a little overwhelmed after her competition. (As many Olympians are, we’re like ‘what’s next;’ we have never thought past the Games.)”

“After her competition, she has the chance for the first time in a long time to look around and not just be in her own world. She meets a volunteer named Ezra, a dentist played by Nick Kroll, and we also get to see the Games through his eyes. That was so special to me to capture because it’s based on my own experience, my own friendship with the volunteers who make the Olympic Games possible. They have an adventure together that ends, as every Olympics does, but one that they’ll remember forever.”

“On TV, we can clearly see the values of Olympism through the athletes and their competition, but in person, you can also see it in the passion of the volunteers. I’ve had the chance to interact with the people who put on the Games, who make it happen – there’s teamwork and there’s determination in the entirety of the Games, not just the competitions. Olympism is seeing and experiencing something at its peak – at the greatest, at its height. The bodies and minds here are the greatest in the world, and they’re gathered at the greatest event in the world. I think Olympism, more than anything, is a celebration. That’s how I’ve always tried to look at my own competitions.”

“Respect means standing on a start line with competitors and knowing that you’re going to try your best to win, but also that you appreciate all the athletes who have made it here. It also means valuing and having confidence in your own abilities and thinking you belong here. I think that all Olympians during the Games have this moment of ‘What? How did I get here? This is magic,’ and just knowing that we all came from these different places but that we each belong here and can contribute to the Olympic tradition. That is a special gift.”

Watch the first episode of Pappas’ film project below, and find the full series here.

Episode 1: Coming Together

Whether you're an athlete or spectator, the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony has an energy and magic like nothing else.

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