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Going for the gold

I cannot think about Olympic sports with out conjuring up the image of Slovenian ski jumper Vince Bogataj who personified “The Agony of Defeat” by competing in the 1970 International Ski Flying Championship in Oberstdorf, West Germany.

The faulty ski jump he had that day would be seen each week in the series’ opening sequence. Jim McKay called Bogataj’s accident “A performance that, in time, would mean he would appear more often on ‘Wide World of Sports’ than anyone else.”

You’ll remember it was Jim McKay who popularized the phrase “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” I am confident that if I ever make sports history it will be because of something goofy I will have done! It is said that sports is a microcosm of life and I believe it’s true.

Sometimes life is grand and there is cheering and adulation however sometimes life does spell defeat and trial. Along with the victory and defeat there are countless hours and days of hard work and effort.

The scriptures are rich with instruction for life but I believe it is spelled out no clearer than in Proverbs three… “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Solomon tells us to completely trust God and put him first. Then he reminds us that when we follow this advice he will direct us. A television program preceding the 1988 Winter Olympics featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing, impossible as that sounds.

Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting, “Left!” and “Right!”

As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers’ word. It was either complete trust or catastrophe. What a vivid picture of the Christian life!

In this world, we are in reality blind about what course to take. We must rely solely on the Word of the only One who is truly sighted, God Himself.

As I watched the Olympics this past week I was reminded as each athlete came to the completion of their race, competition or games there had to be not only an incredible sense of accomplishment but also there was a story.

Perhaps a story we will never know, but a story nonetheless. There accompanies each story, a struggle. Untold hours of practice and dedication, which came to a climax in a matter of seconds or perhaps in some cases milliseconds.

And along with each story and each struggle there was also a finish.

It all came down to a moment in time. For some there were cheers and medals, for others there were tears and perhaps four more years of struggle. Regardless of the outcome there was a finish. The finish is not always what we want, but it is always what we personally have contributed too.

In other words, we have a say, we find ourselves alone responsible in the end for the outcome. Whether or not it was our obedience or disobedience to the coach, the rules or the demands, in the end it’s up to us. This truth is displayed no more clearly than in the 100-meter final at the 1988 games, Carl Lewis was competing against Canadian Ben Johnson.

Halfway through the race Johnson was five feet in front. Lewis was convinced he could catch him. But at 80 meters, he was still five feet behind. It’s over, Lewis thought. As Johnson crossed the finish, he stared back at Lewis and thrust his right arm in the air, index finger extended. Lewis was exasperated.

“I didn’t have the medal, but I could still act with class and dignity,” Lewis said later. He shook Johnson’s hand and left the track. But then came the announcement that Johnson had tested positive for anabolic steroids. He was stripped of his medal. The gold went to Lewis.

You know, whether we ever compete in the Olympics or not we each have a story. Yours is far different from mine, but it is a story.

I am also convinced each of us faces a struggle or two. Again the differences are vast as each of us journeys from the start to the finish line in life but I am reminded we will all finish in one fashion or another.

The Hebrew writer expresses it this way, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tanzanian runner John Stephen Awkward was the last runner in the marathon.

He came in about an hour and a half after the winner, practically carrying his leg, as it was so bloodied and bandaged.

He was asked, “Why did you keep going?”

He said, “You don’t understand. My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start a race, they sent me to finish it.”

Finish well my friend!


Tim Throckmorton is pastor ofCrossroads Church in Circleville.