Let the 2012 Games Begin

We're gearing up for the Olympics with more inspiring stories of America's Olympians of faith and the inside scoop on the opening ceremony.

LET’S GO: First Lady Michelle Obama urged America’s athletes to ‘have fun, breathe a bit, but also win,’ when she visited their training base in east London today. Mrs. Obama is leading the US presidential delegation which includes a ringside seat at tonight’s ceremony. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Newscom)

The 2012 London Olympic games begin today with a ceremony that will turn London’s Olympic Stadium into “green and pleasant land” and will include “a wide array of animal,” E-Online reported. The “green and pleasant land” phrase comes from a patriotic hymn that is based on a William Blake poem, in case you’re wondering. But, amidst sounds of popular British music, there will also be “a game of village cricket as well as a giant replica of Glastonbury Tor in southwest England, with spectators filling up a mosh pit to reflect the Glastonbury music festival.” First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband’s presumptive rival Mitt Romney will be in attendance, the Associated Press reported. NBC begins its broadcast at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Why, one may ask, do the honorable games begin with such odd extravaganzas? “The Olympic opening ceremony embraces the elusive elements that keep bringing us back to sports: pageantry and excitement, the beauty of teamwork and perhaps deep down a sense that sports can somehow facilitate a long-sought-after peace and harmony in the world,” The New York Times reported. The games themselves are “a peaceful celebration of our warlike nature,” Times columnist David Brooks’ opined this morning.

Who knew? I just like to watch the runners and the tumblers. Then when I’m out jogging or doing cartwheels in my soon-to-be 48-year-old body, I imagine myself persevering or flexing my way through any number of personal or professional challenges. In other words, I watch to be inspired and to escape the drudgery of daily life.

PHOTO OP: Mrs. Obama met with members of Team USA this morning. Here she poses with the 2012 Women’s Basketball team. (Photo: Jeff Moore/Newscom)

Previously, we highlighted seven Christian Olympians of color who inspire.Then, Charisma featured some we missed. Among them are hurdler Dawn Harper, basketball players Kevin Durant and Tamika Catchings, weightlifter Kendrick Farris (who asked for donations to help him bring his family to the games), and decathlete Bryan Clay, who failed to make the team, but won Gold in 2008.

Clay was interviewed by author Chad Bonham, who has a book out about 18 Olympians of faith. Asked how he manages expectations vs. the reality that his identity isn’t wrapped up in results, Clay said, in part, “Does God care if you win a game or a race or a gold medal? I’m going to venture out and say, no, probably not. But what He does care about are the lessons you’ve learned along the way through the win or the loss. Whether you win or lose, I think God’s number one goal for you is that you bring glory back to Him. If that means you have to lose for God to get the glory, then that’s what’s going to happen.”

That’s a gold-medal lesson, if ever there was one.

If you still can’t get enough of inspiring athletes, Bonham has also published interviews with past Olympians like Dave Johnson (decathlon) and Shannon Miller (gymnastics), and has a preview up of this year’s competitors. The New York Times Magazine took a unique approach in a lengthy profile of White Christian marathoner Ryan Hall. Its story hinged on Hall’s contention that God is his coach. About.com interviewed Christian runner Sonya Richards-Ross, Elev-8 featured Boxer Claressa Shields, and Christianity Today highlighted basketball player Maya Moore.

If you’re interested in the race angle, The Root published a Black Olympian slideshow and The Grio asked if the games will “save East London’s multicultural community.”

Finally, Charisma reported that “Christian organizations will have volunteers on hand in pedestrian corridors and transport hubs to generate conversations with visitors through creative arts and acts of kindness, and to hold chapel services and other events for people attending the Games.”

I was going to conclude by suggesting you grab a bag of chips and put your feet up to watch the opening ceremony tonight, but I suppose I should suggest instead that you go for a brisk walk first, or, if you’re still at work, munch some carrots while you watch from the stair-master later. In any case, happy viewing!

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is a widely published journalist and essayist, and an editor-at-large at UrbanFaith. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.