It was a majestic moment. The clouds came and then they went and in between the sun popped out. In that moment Ino Menegaki, the highest of “high priestesses”, gathered before the great stone alter of the temple of Hera, took her torch, placed it in a parabolic mirror and lit it from the sun’s rays. In a second the Olympic flame was born.
Perhaps because of this, Gianniotis, a towering man, was almost at a loss for words to describe how he felt as the first to take the flame. “It was a unique moment,” said Gianniotis, who ran through the stadium with torch and olive branch in hand followed by a cameraman on wheels. “It is an honour to compete in an Olympic Games but it is an even bigger honour to carry the flame.” S
pyros Gianniotis transfers the flame to Alex Loukos, a 19-year-old boxer from Newham, east London Spyros Gianniotis transfers the flame to Alex Loukos, a 19-year-old boxer from Newham, east London
The Olympic symbol then traveled almost 2,000 miles through Greece before it was officially handed to the London organising committee in Athens and flown, in its own seat in a custom-made box, on a gold coloured British Airways plane on 17 May. From the Royal Navy airbase at Culdrose, Cornwall, where it landed, it began a 70-day, 8,000-mile torch relay across Britain. It is expected to reach the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London, on the evening of 27 July for the opening ceremony of the Games.
Nowadays the Olympic Games are held in high regards with many countries competing to have them held in their home country. Also the Olympic Games have taken on values of excellence, friendship and respect. Excellence – To give one’s best, on the field of play or in life. It is not only about winning, but also about participating, making a commitment to progress against personal goals, striving to be and to do our best in our daily lives. Friendship – To build a peaceful and better world through sport: building on solidarity, team spirit, joy and optimism. To promote sport as an opportunity for teamwork, camaraderie and mutual understanding among individuals from all over the world, despite the differences. Respect –To respect oneself and one’s body, to respect others, as well as rules and regulations, and to respect the environment. In relation to sport, respect stands for keeping true to one’s integrity, engaging in fair play and fighting against doping or any other unethical behaviour.
Christians have played their part in the Olympic Games. I suppose the words attributed to the Christian athlete Eric Liddell as he ran in the film Chariots of Fire comes readily to mind. “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure”.
In the New Testament almost all the references to sport are to Greek athletic contests. Paul, in particular, often makes reference to the games and to competition. He also spotted clear parallels between Christianity and sport, and felt that Christians could take lessons for Christian living from the experience of the athletes of the day. In 1 Corinthians, Paul calls attention to the vigorous training of the athlete. The Christian is challenged to follow the example of the athlete and to strive for the crown which lasts: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
The Liturgical Commission of the Church of England has decided to compose prayers that all Christians are encouraged to use as the Olympic Torch is taken around the British Islands. These are expressed as follows:- “Loving God, as this torch travels our nation, preparing us to celebrate the skill and determination of those competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, strengthen us to love you and serve our neighbour with all the skill and determination you give us, through Christ, the light of the world. Amen”. “As this light travels our nation, may your light, O God, shine in the hearts of all who gather to celebrate the energy, skill and dedication of others. Send your Holy Spirit to light up our lives and set our hearts on fire with love for you; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Olympic Charter guarantees freedom of religion and this is generally interpreted as the provision of a religious centre as a place for private or corporate worship in the style and manner the individual is accustomed to. Formal services are held at set times of the day as well as the individual pastoral support that the chaplains offer. Their role is to offer support to athletes for whom competing may be stressful. Often faith helps them cope with defeat. For example, when the British swimmer Kirsty Balfour went to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 she had won medals in the World Championship silver, European Gold and Commonwealth silver medal. At Beijing, she did not even make the semi finals. “I was trying my best but I didn’t feel sharp and I didn’t feel I could pick up my pace or adjust to what other people were doing. I had just wanted to do a good swim for the team, for the country, for my family. My first thought was of people I had let down, like sponsors, my family, who had flown out to China to watch me, and my coach and my team mates”. It was her faith in Jesus Christ that brought her through the ordeal to the where she was “able to say ‘Yes, Jesus you are in it. You are here. This was your will’. I had such assurance that God still loved me”.
During the London Olympics, another form of support will be provided by the “Athlete Family Homestay” which offers beds, breakfast and access to local transport for a competitor’s ‘support family’. Run by “More than Gold” – the Christian community serving the Games – this programme aims to enable athletes’ family members to afford to be there – through the gift of accommodation and hospitality.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, said at a banquet in London for the members of the International Olympic Committee attending the 1908 Olympics: “The importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part…The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well”. Can we learn from these words? As the Olympic flame does it’s often controversial tour of the UK, can we as members of the SBLPA use this opportunity to hold aloft the Gospel light and point everyone to the living flame who is indeed the light of the world?