Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Olympic Spirit

The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games end this Sunday 28th February 2010. In terms of gold medals, this third attempt is the best ever by a Canadian city. Montreal (Summer 1976) and Calgary (Winter 1988). So far, the host country Canada has raked in 7 golds, and more are expected to come. Of course, for a die-hard hockey fan, none of these really matter if Canada fails to bring in a gold in Ice-Hockey. In fact, many are already preparing for the gold medal game this coming Sunday noon. Some churches have even prepared large screens for their members and friends to capture the historic occasion. Even though Canada is not officially in the gold medal game yet, anyone walking in downtown Vancouver is confident that Canada will be there. Having swept past Russia 7-3 last night, Canadians all over are preparing and hungry for a rematch between Canada and the USA. After the surprise upset last week where Canada lost 5-3 to the USA, this time, Team Canada will be ready.

The Olympic Spirit
This is one Olympic moment to remember. It is a moment in which we cherish our beloved hometown heroes. It is a moment where we marvel at history being made. It is a moment in which we experience the ecstasy of human achievement. In a competition that is highly contested and sometimes results disputed, everyone plays to win. Even though some are there for the experience, the fact is that, to be an Olympian is already an accomplishment in itself. What exactly is an Olympian? What exactly is the Olympic Spirit?

Baron Pierre de Coubertin has been credited as the founder of the modern version of the Olympic Games. His famous words ring true to this day. With regards to the Olympic Spirit, he says:

"It is not about winning but taking part, not conquering but fighting well."

This is important. In a winner-takes-it-all world, sometimes, we can allow our infatuation with medals and results overwhelm us to the point that we miss out the 'participation' aspect. There has been many cases where athletes behave in an unsportsmanlike manner. Take the victory of Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau for example. After winning the first gold medal for Canada, others grumbled about his win. One Australian daily reported that the silver medalist, Begg-Smith representing Australia should have won. Geoff Lipshut was quoted as saying:

"My own opinion is that probably Alex is not capable of a 4.8 or a 4.9 (on his turns) ... because 5 is a perfect score." (link)

Is this a case of sour grapes? Probably, it is a spur of the moment comment as a result of heightened emotions. I believe that the Australian officials will take a more reasonable stance once the results sink in.

True Competitor
Personally, I believe that sportsmanship is a mark of a true competitor. Whether one wins or loses, one should be proud of having been part of the sports to spur one another on toward achieving their best. A healthy competition is only when all athletes give of their best. It makes it worthwhile. It motivates each athlete to compete and fight well. It encourages the public to see that dreams can come true. I like what the Canadian skier, Jennifer Heil says about her silver medal. She said:

"I really don't feel like I lost gold, I really feel like I won silver." (link)

While she may have felt let down by her failure to win gold, I think this should be the attitude of all competitors. The joy is in participation. The reward is in knowing that one has tried the best. If there is a medal won, great. If there is no medal, give thanks for the privilege of being able to compete in the first place.

More Than Gold Within Us
Truly, a thankful heart goes a long way. As a Christian, I believe that this is where Christian athletes can shine for God. With a thankful heart, be grateful for the privilege to compete. For the Christian, if winning is important, there is something else that is 'more than gold.' In fact, this is precisely why a group of Vancouver churches have banded together under the umbrella, "More Than Gold," to remind all of us, that winning is not the end of it all. It is competing for something that is more than gold.

We may not know the extent of the influence of More Than Gold. However, I must say that the words 'More Than Gold' (MTG) captures the Olympic Spirit in more ways than one. It is helpful to contrast "Just Gold" vs "More Than Gold."

Firstly, there can only be one gold medal winner. In MTG, we are all winners in the name of Christ. Secondly, in the medal race, some people use all kinds of ways to win. Some use cheating, like drugs. In MTG, there is no need to do any cheating. One seeks to give more than to receive. Thirdly, a 'Just-Gold' mindset tempts one to try to win at all costs. A MTG mindset reminds us that winning is just not the only thing in life. Whether one wins or loses, one can be proud of the fact that they have tried. Finally, in the MTG website, there are many different athletes whose testimonies reflect a common faith in Jesus. They come from diverse ethnicity, different nationalities and various other backgrounds. They may compete under the flag of their respective countries. However, all of them know that something else is at stake: their witness for Christ. Their stories can be found under the "Beyond the Ultimate" website. Some of their quotes are worth repeating here. Reading them warms my heart. I pray that you experience the same too.

Quotes from Olympians who are Christians:

  • "The way that I conduct myself could be seen around the world. In the heat of competitions, emotions run high. It can be easy to lose tempers, get mad, or argue with officials or opponents. But the person that keeps Christ as a priority throughout the competition seems to be the winner no matter what the score is in the end. A great Christian can remain calm in pressure situations, upbeat in the face of defeat, and even content with not winning. It’s important to be consistently reminded that winning and losing are not the most important things in life. The bigger picture is serving God the right way. I pray that I will always compete as a man with a strong apparent faith." (Curt Tomasevicz, Bobsled, USA)
  • Having Jesus in my life makes a big difference. Even if you fail, God can make the best of it. He stands behind you and carries you through the difficult times. I don’t know how I would survive without God, knowing that whatever I do in competition is good enough and doesn’t affect what God thinks of me. To get to the top in the world of sports there is so much pressure. People may think you have everything in life but I have learned that knowing Jesus and being loved by Him is the only thing that can really satisfy me.” (Ursula Bruhin, Snow Boarding, Switzerland)
  • "My courage comes from my faith, and I don’t know any other way of thinking about it. It’s engrained in me and I can rely on God and know that He has a plan for me and things are in His control, not mine. That’s where my courage comes from." (Lyndon Rush, Driver in Bobsled, Canada)
  • There are great pressures – having spent so many years of effort just to get there. The expectations of your team and country and your own expectations, the coach is under pressure and passes that pressure on to athlete. If your race does not go well everything seems to collapse and you don’t know how to deal with it. As a Christian if I knew I had done all the preparation I could then I was able just to leave the rest to God.” (Katya Antonuk, Cross Country, Russia)
  • "Whether the suffering is large or small, many people believe they will feel joy only after their circumstances get better. Actually, it’s the other way around. Making time and choosing God’s joy when your circumstances are at their worst gives you the energy to face those difficulties and truly effect change. The secret is to allow God to continually clear out the old cobwebs and make room for new joy in your life." (Bonnie StJohn, Paralympic, USA)

Sob. Sob. I think these are true Olympians in the Lord. One more thing, as light of the world and salt of the earth, how are we training for the spiritual Olympics?
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)
May we be true Olympians in the Lord, not just in name but in the heart. All of us can be.


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