Every four years, an amazing event takes place on the world stage; it is called the Summer Olympics. The best athletes from around the world gather to compete at a level most of us will never aspire to attain. The games are coming up at the end of the month in London and promise to be quite exciting.
But, this year’s athletes have a lot to live up to. The Olympic tradition is filled with amazing stories that when taken together reveal the insanity of our world and the possibility of changing it, one person at a time.
So many Olympic stories are incredible. Whether you think back to the events that inspired the movie “Chariots of Fire” from the 1924 Olympics, (that’s the story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, two British runners helped each other and at the same time brought glory to England) or Jesse Owens the black runner who competed for America in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin defeating Hitler’s Aryan athletes, the stories that unfold at the Olympics are far more important than mere sporting events.
Do you remember the tragedy of the Munich Olympics in 1972 when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Islamic Militant group, Black September? They sought to capture the world stage and only drew attention to the cancerous nature of their own ideology.
Time and again, individual stories of triumph arise out of the Olympic back stories that seem to help us correct our own focus.
The Olympic stories are larger than life because so often, athletes have been able to bring our world together when it seems so likely that we will be torn apart by humanity’s discontent.
The Olympics have provided us with so many storylines, so many individual athletes competing not so much against each another, but against themselves.
Perhaps the greatest Olympic story relates to a relatively unknown marathon runner from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Tanzania's John Stephen Akhwari was competing in the Marathon, but the thin air had already caused 17 of the 75 runners to drop out of the race. It was a grueling event and one not repeated in any Olympics since.
Although AkHwari had fallen and dislocated his knee early in the competition, he pressed on. His knee was heavily bandaged. The pain was nearly unbearable. Still Awhwari ran.
More than an hour after the race had been decided, a severely wounded Akhwari entered the Estadio Olimpico Universitario to the slight applause from a few remaining spectators.
At the time, it did not seem like history in the making.
But to those who would later watch the moment unfold on tape—and later in one of Bud Greenspan's acclaimed Olympic documentaries—it became the seminal moment of athletic perseverance.
Asked afterwards by Greenspan why he had continued in the face of such obvious defeat, Akhwari famously replied: "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish it.
While Akhwari’s knee gave way, his character didn’t. He chose to because it represented who he was and who his nation was in sending him.
The 2012 Olympics are a blank slate tonight. The torch hasn’t been lit. The athletes haven’t yet held a single completion under the Olympic banner, but many of them have already determined whether they will win or lose simply by how they have trained themselves to stay in the race.
If you are facing hopelessness in your life, you may feel like giving up. You might feel like the loss you feel now is forever. It isn't! You have reason to push on and stay in the race.
Why? You were created by a loving God who desires to give you life, abundant life. He knows the disappointment you feel. He understands the pain of loss. He did something about it. He sent His one and only Son to live among us, to race along side us. Jesus Christ understands your pain because he is one of us. He died and rose again so that the pain you feel right now doesn't need to last forever.
The peace you need to carry on is just one prayer away. Simply let God know that you've made mistakes. Let Him know that you are sorry and then ask Him to give you new life through Jesus Christ. When you do, you'll discover the strength you need to run your race to the finish line. Best of all, you'll know that Jesus is right there with you, running every step of the way to help you succeed.
- Bill Hennessy