Eight badminton players were disqualified from the Olympics yesterday after deliberately losing qualifying matches to position themselves against weaker opponents later in the tournament. Fans in attendance booed the players for their lack of effort. Two of the players were Chinese; their coach said after the match, “This is nothing. It was just a game.”
By contrast, consider a post titled, “A Catholic Guide to the 2012 Olympics.” The author profiles nine Olympic athletes who are either Catholic or attended Catholic schools. Among them is Lopez Lomong, a competitor in the 5,000 meters race who carried the U.S. flag in the 2008 Olympics. He is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and believes that he is alive today only because “God was there to protect us.”
Kathleen Hersey, one of the world’s best swimmers, includes on her Twitter page a quote from Jeremiah 29: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (v. 11). Swimmer and medal-winner Caitlin Leverenz says, “The best way I feel I can thank God is to use the gift He’s given me for His glory and not my own.”
When Leo Manzano made the Olympics as a runner, he went to his Facebook page to thank God, his mother, his father, his sisters and his brother—in that order. And Diego Estrada, another distance runner, says, “Catholicism and Christianity is a big part of my daily life. I wake up with prayer. I go to bed with prayer. Before a race, I pray.”
My favorite testimonial comes from Jordyn Wieber, the gymnast who made headlines when she was excluded from individual competition due to the rule that each nation could enter only two participants. She says, “I like to look at my gymnastics ability as a great gift from God. Without God in my life, I feel like there would be no meaning.”
For some athletes and coaches, winning medals at the Olympics matters more than being true Olympians. Of course, we will soon forget most of the competitors in the 2012 games (how many winners from 2008 can you name?). However, when these Christ-centered athletes stand before the true Judge of their competition, they will receive a reward that lasts forever. Their faith hasn’t made headlines in our culture—which says more about us than it does about them—but it is cause for rejoicing in heaven.
Like them, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Whose approval will you seek today?