I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, physical education was at the bottom of my list of subjects in school. I much preferred to be curled up with a good book, practicing piano, drawing, or creating some handcraft. Sports were something my younger sister enjoyed and I was proud of her achievements.
However, I’ve always enjoyed watching sporting events. I’m a NHL hockey fan, love watching figure skating, curling, alpine skiing, tennis, and gymnastics. Being a Canadian, I suppose winter sports are more exciting for me, but I have enjoyed following some of the summer Olympics recently. As I cheer for our Canadian athletes and root for some lesser-known competitors, I really appreciate hearing the stories behind many of these athletes and how they made it to such an elite event.
For instance, the Saudi woman who was able to compete for the first time representing her country…her judo debut may have lasted 82 seconds, but what a victory for Muslim women who have fought so long for the right to participate alongside their male teammates. Yesterday, I was impressed with the South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius, who won a court battle enabling him to compete in the Men’s 400m despite the fact he is a double amputee and runs on prosthetic legs – he came second in his heat to qualify for the semi-finals! In an interview afterward, he was just so jubilant and excited to be there.
And if you happened to catch the tennis match on Friday between Roger Federer and Jaun Martin del Potro…what a treat for everyone who witnessed the 4 hour and 26 minute battle to advance to the gold medal round! I was mesmerized with their degree of physical endurance, mental toughness, and their refusal to give up in this nail-biter of a match.
Yesterday, I was moved to tears as I watched Canadian trampoline athlete, Rosannagh MacLennan, win Canada’s first ever gold in this sport. Earlier in the morning, I had listened to a documentary clip on her path to the Olympics. She gave credit to her grandfather, who died two years ago, for being her inspiration throughout her training. I’m sure she wished he could have been there in London.
On another note, I’ve become increasingly upset by those athletes, coaches, and national federations who compete in the games intent on doing whatever they can or are instructed to do in order to simply gain an advantage in their quest for gold. I’m all for working hard, employing fair strategizing, and benefiting from the latest equipment and technology to become the best you can be. But, when teams/athletes so obviously play far below their best effort because they are trying to avoid playing against a team they think may defeat them in the next round…that really annoys me! Whatever happened to putting your best foot forward in every race or game and attempting to be the best you can be all because you love your sport and are proud to represent your country? I find the political aspect of the Olympics disturbing and demoralizing for the athletes who train so diligently.
I also get upset sometimes with the way the media covers these events. Just yesterday, when an athlete favoured to win a medal didn’t attain that goal, I heard more than one broadcaster say the same words, “She failed to reach the podium.” Failed? Really? The fact that any of these tremendous athletes qualified for the Olympics is already a success and an achievement to be totally proud of.
And what about those athletes who feel they need to apologize for not doing as well as expected or who don’t match or exceed their prior performances? I felt such empathy for one girl I heard interviewed yesterday after she finished a race well back from where she usually does. She was apologizing to her home country and supporters, felt she’d had nothing left, and was embarrassed. “I did finish though,” she concluded. At least this time, the broadcaster who followed the interview got it right by saying this girl had “no reason to be embarrassed or to apologize”.
In the world of sport, it is true that only one athlete or team will win the ultimate prize of gold or to be ranked number one. For every person who realizes that goal, they should be celebrated and given the respect they deserve. But let’s not minimize the ones who came second, third, tenth, or thirty-fifth. Their dedication to training and crossing that finish line deserves praise and recognition as well.
In our spiritual lives, we are also exhorted to do our best and run the race well. Paul says in I Corinthians 9: 24-27, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing (or ‘beating the air’ – Amplified Bible). I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (NLT)
As believers and followers of Christ, let’s take some inspiration from these Olympians and strive to do our best, never give up, fight hard against our spiritual adversaries, and keep our eyes on the prize of eternal life that is ours to claim. Thank God we all can be winners!
Until next Sunday,