God, gods and gold medals

Confession: I haven’t been watching much of the Olympics since last Friday’s opening ceremony. (I don’t have cable.) But I have been watching Twitter, and that’s basically the same thing, right?

I’ve been fascinated and surprised by the high volume of coverage about religion at the Olympics. Maybe it’s because Ramadan happens to fall during the Olympics this year, so Muslim athletes have had to wrestle with additional questions about faithfulness and calling. Whatever the reason, I want to point out a few examples of God-and-gold coverage that go beyond the superficial “shoutout to God” level:

Let’s go back a couple thousand years first, and remember that the Olympics have never been completely secular. Religion News Service explains the origins of the Olympics as a religious festival, and USA Today ran an op-ed that begins with the Jesuit background of the founder of the modern Olympics but quickly veers into an aggregate of theological topics that obviously can’t fit in a few paragraphs. The writer alludes to Christianity’s ongoing struggle with gnosticism, then asserts that the Olympic opening ceremony “should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations.” Huh?

But if you’re looking for that Olympic parade of religions, maybe this photo gallery from the Washington Post will do. It features several athletes who have been outspoken about their religion, including a horseback-riding Buddhist monk. This article gives more details about that monk, who says he wants to use the Games as part of his path to enlightenment.

We’ve all seen bumper stickers that say “God is my co-pilot.” But marathon runner Ryan Hall says “God is my coach,” and he  means it literally. Hall uses “faith-based coaching” instead of a traditional coach. And when he doesn’t win a race? Hall says, “there are consequences… when I don’t hear Him correctly.” Here’s a CNN interview that stays mostly at the surface level:

The New York Times profiled the runner in much more depth last month, including his church affiliation (Assemblies of God) and several things he has done in training — like rubbing anointing oil on his legs or going three days between strenuous workouts — that he borrowed from passages in the Bible.

Have you seen any interesting religion-related coverage of the Games? Let me know.

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One thought on “God, gods and gold medals

  1. Fascinating about Ryan Hall. In the Times story, Longman writes: “Underpinning his running is his faith. The marathon is so isolating in its training, so impossibly fast at the elite level, so restricting to two performances a year for most top runners, that many athletes seek a purpose larger than themselves, something to believe in more than the numbing miles of roadwork. For some, it is their families or an escape from poverty. For others, it is their religion.”

    This might be said about a lot of athletics. Certainly, I resonated with this quote about how connecting with something bigger than our small human selves is important in any endeavor. ““If you run without any reason, you are just chasing the wind,” said Wesley Korir, the reigning Boston Marathon champion from Kenya.”

    Nice post, thought provoking story.

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