The medal doesn’t make the champion

By Debra Whittington: QCS Religion Columnist

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. Philippians 3:13-14

Every four years, athletes from all over the world come together in one locale to compete for the highest honor of the gold medal. There are hundreds of athletes and only a few medals to go around. Some of the athletes realize there is little or no chance of them winning and yet they give it their all.

While watching the opening ceremonies, I was amazed at how many countries participating have never won a single medal and yet as they marched into the stadium with great pride and anticipation of the games to come. I truly believe each participant is a winner in their sport because the standards of the Olympic committee uphold strict standards and allow only the best athletes to compete. Since television coverage is limited, this is probably the only time we will see many of these athletes.

Even though I enjoy watching the games, the stories behind the events are just as or even more interesting. One of the biggest stories thus far concerns Michelle Kwan, an outstanding figure skater for many years who dropped out of the Olympics due to an injury. This was her third Olympics and her final attempt at the gold medal that eluded her the past two Olympics. Still, her record is very impressive having won a silver medal eight years ago and a bronze four years ago. Her other achievements include nine times as the United States champion (a record), and a five-time world champion.

Even without the gold medal, she is more of a champion in the way she conducted herself with the press after she withdrew from competition. She was gracious and upbeat (at least on the outside) and stated she withdrew because she couldn’t skate her best and wanted the United States to have the best team possible.

I thought back to the quote from an ABC sports show that opened every episode that went something like, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. In every sport, there is someone who goes home a winner and someone who just goes home. I hate to use the word “loser” because more than once I witnessed these athletes as being the true winner in the way they accepted their defeat.

What we don’t see on television are the hours and hours of practice that precedes the Olympic games. Some of these athletes began their sport at a very young age and were in training most of their lives. First, they started with the basics and practiced them over and over, before they even attempted a competition. Once in competition they faced many failures before winning.

Finally, even as a winner, they had other obstacles and losses along the way before they tried out for the Olympic team. Many of them even tried out year after year before finally making the team.

Christians can learn a great deal from the Olympic games. Are we willing to devote time and energy, start with prayer and Bible study each day, spending a great deal of time before we venture out for the day?

Are we prepared with the “basics” when obstacles of life come our way?

When the problems of life come our way, it is easy to throw our hands up and quit trying. When that happens, it is more important than ever to put into practice what we already learned and apply it to our lives. There are times when things don’t turn out as we expected, but we need to look ahead to Jesus to keep us on track. In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read,

““Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

Someday we will come to the end of the race in this game called life. When that day comes, I pray we will be able to echo the words the Apostle Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”