Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash
By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics ended on August 8, 2021, after more than two weeks of intense competition from the world’s greatest athletes. Technically though, it was the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because of a yearlong delay thanks to COVID-19, and the virus’s presence in this year’s games was heavy on the minds of everyone involved, from athletes to organizers of the games, to everyone watching at home.
Empty stadiums — cleared of fans and athletes’ families due to Japan’s current COVID protocols — gave the games an eerie, bizarre feeling.
But despite the weirdness of the Olympics, the stories of success and the legendary athletes that emerge every Olympic quadrennium were still present. New champions were crowned, and in the end, the United States just managed to eke out China for the title of most medals and most gold medals for a country won at the games.
For some athletes, though, it was not about winning at all. Sure, that’s obviously the goal whenever you find yourself on the biggest stage in the world, competing at the highest possible level for your sport or skill. But time and time again at the Olympics, we’ve seen examples of camaraderie and sportsmanship shine through in the midst of the pressure of competition.
One of the best examples of sportsmanship at this year’s games was between two high jump contenders, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy. These are two names you probably aren’t familiar with, but their story is one to remember.
At the high jump finals, both competitors were evenly matched at 2.37 meters. However, neither of them could manage to clear the next level up, the 2.39-meter height, which also happened to be the world record for the high jump.
Round after round, Barshim and Tamberi attempted to clear the height, with neither one succeeding at their goal. Just when it seemed like the competition would go on indefinitely like this until one or both competitors were too tired to continue, Barshim made a decision; he asked the Olympic official if it were possible to share first place, therefore guaranteeing that both men would take home the gold medal. And it just so happened that, yes, that was possible, although most people never think to ask.
And so both athletes, at the top of their game and unable to best each other in competition, embraced one another with tears in their eyes, captured in a now viral video seen the world over, simply ecstatic to share the accomplishment of being dual world champions.
Thinking about this amazing story, I’m reminded of the countless verses in the Bible that instruct followers of Christ to stay humble, thinking of others always before yourself.
Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Likewise, in Philippians 2:3, we read Paul’s words to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
For humans, it’s natural to want to dominate, win, and capture all of the pride and accolades that come with being a champion. But as Christians, this is the antithesis of how we should interact with the world.
The Apostle Paul, who authored both Ephesians and Philippians, warns over and over against the downfall of pride. Pride most often leads to ruin. Just look at history and you’ll see no shortage of examples of leaders and countries who ultimately fell to ruin due to pride.
As we continue the long journey into our Church’s future, it’s important to remember that it’s not about winning or losing; one side getting what they want while the other side suffers in failure. It’s about remembering that we are all humans, created in the image of God, and “winning” is not the most important thing.
If athletes whose entire lives are dedicated to being the best they can be can figure this out, then so can we.