Now that Euro 2021 is behind us, many of you will be looking forward, with great anticipation, to Friday 23 July 2021 when the opening ceremony for the XXXII Olympiad takes place in Tokyo and to the opening ceremony of the Paralympics which takes place on 24 August. Both of these games were deferred from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many athletes, competing at an Olympic Games is the pinnacle of their sporting career when they are, in the words of the Olympic motto:
Which, when translated from Latin to English, means: ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ than their compatriots. However, whether athletes win a medal, or fail to qualify beyond the opening round, the age old maxim: “It’s not the winning that counts but the taking part” is very true.
Who might be your favourite Olympian? It’s a difficult choice isn’t it? I think mine would be Daley Thompson – it’s an age thing! He was one if the first UK Athletic superstars of my generation. However, there have been some amazing Christian athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, I want to mention three:
Eric Liddell was made famous in the film Chariots Of Fire. Liddell was born in China, to missionary parents, but returned to Scotland when his parents retired! He played on the wing for Scotland at rugby and was known as a ‘flyer’. He was encouraged to take up athletics and qualified for the 1924 Olympics. Liddell’s specialist event was held on a Sunday and, because of his faith, he declined to take part. He nearly didn’t run in any race, but he was given an opportunity to run in the 400m later in the week. He ran the qualifier, semi and final all in one day and, against all odds, he won the gold medal. Just before the race, an American competitor handed Liddell a piece of paper with the following Bible verse from 1 Samuel 2:30 written on it: Those who honour me I will honour.” Liddell said this inspired him to win the race.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin (100m, long jump, 200m, 4×100 relay). Owens not only established himself as an all-time Olympic great, he countered the propaganda of racial superiority of the Third Reich. Years after he wowed the Nazi home-crowd with his exploits, Owens published an autobiography where he wrote about the:
Odds against which he struggled, the friends and family that gave him strength, and the God who answered his prayers.
Carl Lewis is one of the most successful Olympians of all time. He won nine gold medals (in 100 metres, triple-jump and the long jump) yet he says that his faith is more valuable to him than gold. Lewis’ faith was not compromised by his success and he now travels the world speaking about what being a Christian means to him and how it’s helped him through difficult times. He speaks about how, when his father died from cancer just before the 1988 Olympics, he couldn’t see how he would continue:
We were extremely close and it was a very difficult time. I would not have been able to handle it without my faith. When my father died, I buried the 100 metre gold from the 1984 Olympics with him. He inspired me to go on and become the best I could be in the 1988 Olympics.
The Bible teaches us that we are all winners if we follow Jesus. He knows exactly how we should run the race of life. We just need to do what He teaches us and we’ll win the prize that he has for us.
An Olympic Prayer
Heavenly Father, giver of joy and source of all strength, we pray for those who prepare for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We pray for the competitors training for the Games and their loved ones and for the the many thousands who will support them as people of many nations come together.
In a world where many are rejected and abused, we pray for a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of humility and respect and, especially, for the health and safety of all.
May we at the last be led towards the love of Christ who is more than gold, now and forever. Amen.