The Olympics are just around the corner. It’s a time that unites us across the country, and often the world. We cheer for those who are have shown they are some of the best athletes in the world, either from our own country, someone who is an underdog or someone with a remarkable story of triumph. We stay up late at night to watch a game or match. We wake up in the morning and check the medal count. (How many gold medals will the USA win this year?) We learn about new athletes who are rising to success and will be competitors to watch for the next Olympics. We say good-bye to athletes we’ve seen compete in the past and are retiring after the competition in London. The Olympics, even if you normally don’t watch sports, will be THE event on TV, and will be the lead topic of conversation most places you go.
There’s always a little controversy and heartache with the Olympics too, mixed in with the joy and admiration. An athlete from Greece has already been denied the right to compete by their home country because of racist remarks. The top Chinese male gymnast has withdrawn from competition because of an injury.
And, as Catholics, what one of the biggest controversies and heartaches should be the recent coverage of the debauchery and sexual nature of the Olympics. Just Google the words “Olympics” and “condoms” and you’ll see article after article about the sexual activity of the athletes. It’s not exactly accepted by those that run the Olympics, but they aren’t exactly discouraging it from happening either. A record 150,000 condoms will be passed out at these Olympics, and there is growing concern that London 2012 could be the raunchiest Olympic Games ever. (Contrast that with only 4000 total Bibles being made available as giveaways.) Athletes have been quoted as saying they have seen people have sex on the grass between buildings, and have seen roommates with a different partner every night. More than likely, there are probably a few athletes that will partake in this sexual activity that are Catholic. And unfortunately, many teens and children look up to these Olympic athletes, and the immorality is not the best of examples.
That being said, there are examples of Catholic athletes who call upon their faith to strengthen and calm them as they prepare for the biggest event an athlete can ever compete in. There are example of love and joy and understanding that their athletic ability comes from God and that God is primary in their life.
There’s 15 year old America swimmer Katie Ledecky from Bethesda, Maryland who will be swimming the 800-meter freestyle race. In an article in the Archdiocese of Washington blog, the My Catholic Standard, Katie is quoted as saying, “I always pray right before a race. The prayer I say is the Hail Mary.. I also love going to Mass every week. It’s a great chance to reflect and connect with God. (My faith) has been a big part of my life since I was born.”
We also have an Olympian from right here in the Diocese of Austin, Leo Manzano, who will be running the 1500m. A parishioner at a St.Ignatius, Martyr Church in South Austin, Leo attended Mass at St.Ignatius before leaving for Europe in preparation for the Olympics. Leo has spoken to the students at St.Ignatius, Martyr Catholic School about his faith and athletics, and is even set to be featured in the parish bulletin this coming Sunday, July 29. (Follow him on Twitter here.)
There’s also a strong Catholic influence among other athletes (it’s hard to find information on the faith of most athletes, so they athletes may actually be Catholic too). Mariel Zagunis, who graduated from a Catholic K-12 school and the University of Notre Dame, is about to compete in her third Olympics, and is a favorite to three-peat as a Gold Medalist in fencing. She’s also been voted to carry in the flag for team USA in the Opening Ceremonies. And David Rudisha, who is coached by a Catholic religious brother in the Kenya Highlands in one of the schools run by the Brothers of St. Patrick. Brother Colm O’Connell has been coaching athletes for more than 35 years in Kenya.
It’s important for us to remember, that regardless of the stage, our Catholic faith can, and should be, present. It calls us to evangelize and share our Catholic faith. Athletes such as Ledecky and Manzano have openly shared about their faith, and its importance in their lives. Catholics in England are also seeking to evangelize too. by creating an Olympic Cross to reach out to Olympians and attendees of the 2012 Games as a way to create a Catholic presence, foster spiritual growth and evangelize. They hope to keep the cross a part of the Olympics and other international sporting events such as the World Cup (soccer).
Our Catholic faith can be found everywhere, including the Olympics. Our Catholic faith should form us in every situation: how we view the examples of morality, the understanding that God is our strength, recognizing that athletic talent is God given and not just about the self and more. So please, enjoy the Olympics (I know I will be!), but also keep in mind that some of the best stories, the ones about the faith-filled lives of athletes are not being told.
Oh, and I’m just curious, do you know of any other Catholic athletes, or athletes that have had a Catholic influence in their lives? And what events are you most looking forward to?