The Summer Olympics begins Friday and concludes after 10 days on Sunday, Aug. 12 in London, which will become the only city to host the international competition three different times (previously in 1908 and 1948).
The sportsman or sportswoman in us finds these internationally broadcast individual and team events interesting — even fascinating — for various reasons. Sports and other journalists record (1) the dedication of the athletes, (2) human stories of achievement often despite significant odds and, of course, (3) some of the finest in athletic competition on the planet.
Some of us learn more about the cultures of the Olympiad participants, a reminder to viewers that it is not only possible but desirable for nations and athletes to momentarily set aside their differences to pursue healthy interaction and competition.
The Olympiad — particularly through the people competing for medals — becomes something of a laboratory for removing barriers to better understanding and even lifelong friendships.
To be sure, the Olympics is a creation of humans. The movement is large and the events are indeed chronicled for the masses around the world. Some with cruel motives have seen it as a place to resort to violence and targeted deaths to make political statements. Who can forget the 1972 Olympic attacks that left 11 Israeli athletes and coaches dead in Munich at the hands of Palestinian terrorists?
Recent news underscored the failure of the company holding the security contract on the Games to come up with its full promised complement of trained experts. A plan was quickly set in place to remedy the shortage and satisfy Olympic leaders, but the security firm was rightly humiliated internationally.
A lot of money stands to be made by the host city during the every-four-years event. But a lot of money stands to be made by a lot of people and their companies. Travel-related firms do a bumper crop of business as teams, government personnel and fans from the far corners of the world converge on the international spectacle. The Olympics is a gigantic magnet for advertisers.
Through the years, international organizers of the Olympics have struggled with who may participate. Many of us remember when National Basketball Association and Woman's National Basketball Association players were not allowed on the U.S. Olympic basketball teams. The best college and university players in the nation were selected instead. That has all changed.
While some people are particularly attracted to the bottom line, the Games themselves offer a platform for the exhibition of humanity — sometimes at its best.
More than once in track and field competitions, we have witnessed athletes who suffered maladies in mid-race and pulled up lame. Some persevered anyway, sometimes dragging themselves across the finish line, not hoping for anything more than simply completing the race. We've watched whole stadiums of fans stand and cheer each inch of progress.
Occasionally, a loved one has run onto the field to aid an injured son or daughter to the finish line. These are heart stories.
Some of us have watched long enough that we recognize swimmers and others who have qualified for three or more Olympics, giving a lot of us hope that hard work and prolonged dedication can enable us to remain productive and successful in endeavors perhaps not even remotely related to the Olympics.
Not only have we cheered older Olympians, but we have marveled that some of the youngest athletes have excelled beyond their years. The human spirit is remarkable to see on such a worldwide platform.
One group of Olympic attendees that will brave the throngs of London visitors will be present particularly because of their faith. They will be Christians from across the midwestern United States and around the world who want to be sure that Christ and a Christian witness are present in the Olympiad experience.
Many of these — including a multitude of Baptists — will share a Christian witness in traditional and unique ways. Some will share tracts or swap pins with other visitors in hopes of securing a commitment to faith or planting a seed that may find root after everyone returns home. Some will be present to train and assist London-area congregation desiring to broaden their own ministry and evangelistic impact.
Most of our readers will resonate with such efforts. For some athletes, the Olympics is a life-changing experience. But an athletic victory pales in comparison to a life changed by God.
We may not see many stories on television about these endeavors, but as we view the rest, we can pray that Christ will be honored by all those who trust him and seek to make him known to others.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.