Jesus in Rio: Christian Olympians Share Their Faith During Games
Jesus has been looming over the Rio games. And we don’t just mean the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue towering over the city. His presence has been felt in expressions of Christian faith by many of the athletes competing in the Olympics, though you’d be hard-pressed to find it breaking through the mainstream media coverage of the games.
In most instances, reporters would rather try catching a javelin with their bare hands then catch themselves quoting athletes expressing their joy in the Lord. Video highlights seem to cut away from the medal-winner just as they get to praising Jesus. Even Simone Biles saying Tuesday night she wanted to see Christ the Redeemer seemed to throw NBC’s Bob Costas for a loop. He offered a startled and odd “oh,” and an awkward, rapid change of subject.
By contrast, it’s amusing to watch the mainstream media fawn over Muslim fencer Ibtijah Muhammad, who was wildly heralded for being the first American Olympian to wear a hijab while competing. On Saturday, when America medaled in the women’s team sabre event, the AP story opened, “Ibtihaj Muhammad came to the Olympics determined to show the world that Muslim-American women can excel in sports. Muhammed will return home to New Jersey with proof she was right.”
Did anyone really need proof? Do her teammates — who remain unnamed in the article — have the right to feel like chopped liver?
Muslim Fencer Scores Media Victory Over Christian and Jewish Gymnasts
The media fixated on Muhammad’s Muslim faith the second she stepped onto the fencing strip for the individual sabre competition. Newsbusters’ Katie Yoder did some calculating. As of last Friday, American television networks dedicated 13 minutes, 25 seconds to Muhammad simply because she was the first American Olympian to wear a hijab.
By contrast, says Yoder, “When the U.S. women’s gymnastics landed a gold medal Tuesday evening, the broadcast networks spent 22 minutes, 35 seconds celebrating the win and interviewing the girls. Only 0.6 percent of the coverage mentioned the girls’ faith, even though several of them clearly expressed that God was their inspiration for competing.”
Now, as a former fencer, watching any fencer get national attention is worth a crisp salute. But Muhammad getting 100 times more attention for being a Muslim than the “Final Five” got for their faith should earn the media a major point deduction.
Still, the Light has found a way to shine. Here are just a few examples:
Faith of “The Final Five” on Display
Monday morning, as she prepared to compete on the balance beam, 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez tweeted out Isaiah 40:31:
— Laurie Hernandez (@LaurieHernandez) August 15, 2016
I don’t know how anybody could walk — let alone flip, flop and fly — on a 4″-wide elevated piece of wood without feeling at least a little faint. But Hernandez did “soar on wings like eagles,” and earned a silver medal. In the ensuing hoopla, she found time to praise Hillsong United’s “Touch the Sky.”
Touch the sky by @hillsongunited is so humbling I love it❤️
— Laurie Hernandez ➶ (@lzhernandez02) August 16, 2016
Hillsong Young & Free is just one of the Christian artists on the Olympic training playlist teammate Gabby Douglas shared with Billboard magazine right before the Games. Unfortunately, Gabby Douglas has had an Olympic experience filled with more lament than celebration. Cruel attacks on her looks, her demeanor, even her patriotism devastated the regal 2012 Olympic darling. She told the media Tuesday the comments were “really hurtful,” and as ESPN reported, she then walked down a hallway, “stood in a corner, facing a wall, and had a good, long cry.” Very few people approached her. Hopefully, one of the songs on her Billboard list came to her heart: “You’ll Never Be Alone.”
By Wednesday, it appears Gabby was itching to soar again.
This #Rio2016 journey taught me never stop reaching for my goals, #BeautyEmpowered now! @MBIB let's push the limits! pic.twitter.com/9gliqAxqQF
— Gabrielle Douglas (@gabrielledoug) August 17, 2016
“God Prepared My Heart to Respond That Way”
American runner Abbey D’Agostino knows the presence of God in the midst of pain. Her inspirational example of the Olympic spirit has made headlines across the globe. Abbey was competing in a 5,000-meter qualifier Tuesday when she got tangled with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. Both women crashed to the ground. Abbey scrambled to her feet to continue racing, but stopped cold when she saw Nikki was still crumpled on the track. Abbey reached for her competitor, helped her up and urged the New Zealander to keep running.
Both completed the race. However, Abbey was carted off the track in a wheelchair. Somehow, maybe you can say miraculously, she had finished the final 2,000 meters despite suffering a torn ACL and strained MCL in her right knee. (For you metric-phobes, that’s 1.25 miles.)
Despite the stop, despite the injury, Abbey has no regrets. And you have to hear why. “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way,” said the 24-year-old Christian. “This whole time here, he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
According to the race results, Abbey D’Agostino finished in 29th place. Yet even Michael Phelps is no greater a champion.
“We Just Let His Presence Come Upon Us”
American women’s hurdlers are leaving Rio with the bling. Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin earned gold, silver and bronze in the 100-meter hurdles; the first time a single nation has swept the medals since 1972. And to Him they gave the glory.
“I just kept God first and just continued to let Him guide me through the rounds,” Rollins said, “We formed a prayer circle this morning and we just let His presence come out here and continue to glorify him and do the best that we can and that’s what we did.”
“We Are Winners Because of This World”
Finally, we started out by saying the mainstream media appears to be downplaying the importance of Christian faith to many of the athletes. So we do have to credit NBC where credit’s due, as in their story “Divers Johnson and Boudia rely on faith to put minds at ease,” about Olympic silver medalists Steele Johnson and David Boudia.
But we close with an inspirational moment that NBC didn’t quite get. Go to NBCOlympics.com and you’ll find a video titled “Fiji rugby players sing after winning gold.” The full caption accompanying the video reads, “The Figi men’s rugby team sang in celebration after winning the gold medal.” Oh, NBC, it was much more. They sang alright. They sang like David sang.
This was the first Olympic gold medal Fiji has won in that nation’s entire history, and the Fiji rugby 7 were singing about the King. It’s a gospel hymn called “E Da SA Qaqa.” Translation: “We Are Winners Because Of This World.”
“We have overcome,
We have overcome.
By the blood of the lamb in the Word of the Lord
We have overcome.”