As of this morning, six US athletes have won gold medals at the Rio Olympics. Two won for individual events; four won in a swimming relay. They will be called Olympic champions for the rest of their lives. This is appropriate, since they have dedicated their lives to the success they achieved.
So far, the US women’s gymnastics team is in first place as well. A typical athlete competing on this team began her gymnastics training when she was two or three years old and had a coach by the age of five. She devoted between twenty and thirty hours a week to the sport as a child and has been focused on this year’s Olympics since the last Olympics ended.
It’s hard for the rest of us to imagine the sacrifices needed to become an Olympic athlete. There are 554 Americans competing in Rio, comprising 0.00017 percent of the US population. To win Olympic gold would be the highest goal most athletes could aspire to achieve.
And yet there are some in Rio who know better. Christianity Today profiles twenty-four athletes competing at the 2016 Olympics who believe there’s a greater reward in life than Olympic fame.
Gabby Douglas may be America’s best-known female Olympian. Winner of the gold medal in the 2012 all-around gymnastics competition, she explains how her faith relates to her athletic career: “I always pray at every competition, when the judge’s hand goes up I am praying, and there are little Scriptures I like to quote.” She cites Philippians 4:13 among others.
Swimmer Maya DiRado says, “Knowing that I’m a child of God and that his love for me is determined by nothing I can achieve or do on my own has given me a quiet confidence.” Diver David Boudia states, “If I represent a good God, I need to be that visual representation of him all the time, not just when I feel like it.”
Michelle Carter is competing in the shot put. She began a Bible study for her teammates, explaining that “people notice how I am living out my faith. . . . Even when no one is looking, the way I act is important because it is a reflection of how I walk with Christ.”
Like Olympic athletes, followers of Jesus have a decision to make: we can sacrifice the present for the sake of the future, or we can sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.
The author of Hebrews commended his readers: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). The way to endure present temptation and suffering is to remember the future reward it purchases. It is like a financial investment which costs much today but benefits much more tomorrow.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). What prize will you seek today?