Taking a break for a second from my pilgrimage through Luke’s gospel to bask in the many biblical applications coming out of the World Athletics Championship just concluded in Eugene, Oregon.
Having devoted six years to competing on the track myself, having remembered Steve Prefontaine when he was running for the Oregon Ducks, the tripping of Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, Sebastian Coe, grainy videos of Bob Hayes, Bob Seagren vaulting a paltry 18.6 feet, witnessing Bob Beamon’s 29′ 2 1/2″ foot jump in real time, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ protest, Munich, watching Flo Jo set records still standing today, Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson and the controversy that ensued, Michael Johnson, Edwin Moses, and of late Usain Bolt, there is nothing more moving to me than the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
In the past week I’ve seen a pole vault into the heavens, someone competing in the grueling decathlon will himself to the finish line to get the bronze, one of the favorites in that event go down with a heartbreaking hamstring injury, a near photo-finish of two 800m runners that have been dueling since the last Olympics with one having to come up short again, a female javelin thrower in her last meet on her last throw having never won a medal launch a silver medal-producing missile, another decathlete in the pole vault have his pole snap in two, slicing his knuckles, a favorite in the 100m hurdles disqualified for a .001 second “false start,” a stunning world record in the 400m hurdles of “Flo Jo” or “Bob Beamon” proportions, dropped batons and lane infractions, a 35 year-old with pink hair still winning golds, grizzly veterans and wet-behind-the-ears rookies on the same track, many gracious winners and losers, seasoned announcers waxing poetic in the description of what I just witnessed, patriotism, reinstatements and disqualifications, many, many dashed dreams, and unbridled joy.
You know it’s perfectly fine to be a fan of sport in the truest sense, particularly contests that require superhuman effort. I am reminded that the Apostle Paul witnessed a few track meets in his lifetime, so much so he could not resist a comparison or two.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
There are many who are athletic in this world, but far fewer athletes. Athletes apply the same principles required in their events to everything in life. We can all be athletes! That’s what Paul’s getting at. Our reward will not be a perishable wreath but an enduring one.