Have you enjoyed watching the Olympics as much as I have? It is hard to watch and not be inspired by the accomplishments of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simon Biles, Allyson Felix, Ashton Eaton, and the many other gold medal champions. Of course some of the most inspiring stories of the Olympics came not from the medal winners but from the countless others that worked just as hard to be there even though, for the most part, their effort was overshadowed by others. Repeatedly the announcers talked about the heartbreak of finishing fourth, often ignoring the triumph of all those that recorded a personal best and fulfilled a lifelong dream just by competing and representing their country on that great stage.
The Olympics are filled with drama, heroics, achievement, and heartbreak. They have also featured some incredible human-interest stories. Novlene Williams-Mills from Jamaica is a wonderful example. This 4x Olympic medalist in the women’s 4x400 meter was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before the 2012 Olympics in London. She set aside her worries and fears (having lost a sister to cancer), to help her Jamaican team win the bronze. She had surgery three days after the games, followed by a double mastectomy, and a final surgery in January 2013. Novlene was back for the 2016 Olympics, this time helping her team win the silver medal after three successive bronze medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012, an inspiring story of guts and determination.
Thanks to NBC’s coverage we learned her story, but how many other athletes remained anonymous because they were not competing for team USA or did not make any finals?
Another inspiring story of sportsmanship is that of Jack Sock, a USA tennis player who appealed a call because his opponent’s ball had been called out, and he saw it as in. Not many players challenge a ruling in their favor. His opponent and the judge seemed stunned at first, bringing laughter from the crowd. How I hope this could be the example of honesty and sportsmanship we remember from the Olympics, instead of Ryan Lochte’s misbehavior and lies.
One of the other things I noticed was how many of the champions emerged from lives marred by tragedy. I’m not sure how adversity fits into the formula for Olympic success but it certainly was present in many stories. This made me think about a verse in James that has inspired me, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
To be an Olympic athlete requires skill, strength and speed, but even more it requires dedication, commitment, determination, endurance, and staying focused on the goal. The Apostle Paul compared the focus and commitment athletes need to achieve their goal to the perseverance we need to triumph in the life of faith. To the Corinthians, who hosted their own regional version of the Olympics, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
It would be truly great to be able to compete in the Olympics. But as we dream of the glory and the gold let us remember that Paul tells us there is an even greater challenge in life and an even more precious and lasting prize. Are the sacrifices we make to strengthen our faith really so great? Let us run the race of faith as those who have seen the prize and are determined to finish and not be distracted by lesser things.