August 6, 1996
Dave Barry called it the “Tiny Women Athletes About the Size Of A Toothbrush Flagrantly Defying Gravity Event.” This is women’s gymnastics. Last week, a team of seven from the United States won a gold medal because one of their team did something either very brave or very stupid.
The American team score was close to that of the Russian team, so close that if the final U.S. athlete did not do well on the vault, they would lose. She had two tries. Her score would be based on the best of the two. Up to that point, two of her teammates fell at the end of their vaults. The American win depended on this one little gymnast.
Her first attempt shocked the announcers. She also landed wrong but injured her foot in the process. After a brief discussion with her coach, she went on and made a near-perfect vault. Then she shifted her weight to one leg and collapsed in pain.
The next day, a caller on a talk show said the whole thing was foolish. This young woman put the future health of her body in jeopardy. Her coach should not have told her to go ahead.
Others did not see it that way. This gymnast did not know the scores were so close. For her, it was her turn and the team depended on her to do her best so she did. Her coach carried her to the platform to stand one-legged alongside her teammates and receive her gold medal. She is hailed as a courageous hero, a true representative of the Olympian spirit.
The original Olympic competitions began as early as 700 B.C. and officially ended in AD 394, so were part of the early Christian’s world. Paul used them to illustrate how Christians should live by saying: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
He added, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last: but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly or fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified...”
Just like the Olympics, the Christian life is not for couch potatoes nor the undisciplined. Following Jesus Christ requires both self-control and training. Our focus is to obey everything He tells us to do and say no to everything else.
Our race also requires we have a clear goal, move steadfastly toward it and know our opponent. It is not God’s intention that we compete against each other but that each of us concentrates on being like Jesus. Against us are three very powerful forces: the world (all that is against Christ), the flesh (our own sinful tendencies) and the devil (who wants us to fail).
Olympians compete with others, but most of them focus on achieving their personal best. Each is determined to remain calm, whether they lose or win, fail or succeed. They listen to their coaches and persevere toward the finish line. Christians also must determine to reach the goal, listening to our Coach and persevering until we reach our reward.
That final American vault demonstrated the ability to keep going under great pressure. The gymnast’s ankle may never be the same but her strength of character ought to be envied by all, especially Christians. She supported her team, did her part without whining or even hesitating, and earned the prize.
Although we do not earn our salvation like an Olympian earns a medal, we do strive for eternal rewards. Therefore, we must put aside whatever trips us up and run our race with courage and perseverance.