The Commonwealth Games are known as “The friendly games”. It is probably true already of athletics that you see things at such events that you wouldn’t at something like a football tournament (much as I love football). There is much less tribalism. Imagine for example English football fans standing politely for the national anthem of their nearest rivals and applauding them receiving their prize.
We have just been to watch some of the athletics at the Alexander Stadium and there were numerous examples of this at play. From the beginning, the atmosphere was friendly and you could tell that people were looking out for one another (perhaps with the exception of the businesses charging the usual extortionate prices at big events). We joined in the cheering of Lindon Victor, the Grenadian who won the decathlon. Now, there may have been some partisan self interest from the mainly English crowd who maybe saw his victory denying the Australians another gold and increasing the possibility of us overtaking them to top the medals table. However, I think there was also genuine love and respect for a man who had demonstrated incredible sporting prowess in the toughest of competitions.
However, the most moving event of the evening was in the women’s 3000 metre Steeplechase. It’s a gruelling race with a series of hurdles to jump including a water jump. Initially all eyes were on the front runners and two English women who were in the chasing pack. We willed them on and cheered and encouraged as one caught the front two and eventually managed to claim an unexpected silver medal.
But our attention was also increasingly drawn to another athlete at the back. She was clearly struggling, I don’t know if through exhaustion or carrying an injury but she had long since stopped jumping the hurdles and was in effect clambering over them. You could see the pain, the exhaustion but also the determination. She was now the last person to compete. Instead of forgetting about her though, the whole stadium were willing her on, cheering every hurdle, applauding her as she ran. She got perhaps the loudest cheer of the evening. Yes she was struggling, but she was unbeaten. Friends, she finished the race.
I was reminded of two beautiful passages from Scripture. First, Paul says:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.2 Timothy 4:7
Then the writer to the Hebrews says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne.Hebrews 12:1-2
There is that imagery of someone running the race cheered on by those who have gone before, urged on by the support. The competitors in that race are me and you. We aren’t the gold medal winners. That prize goes to Jesus alone. He’s the one seated victoriously in the place of honour but like that athlete, we are urged on to complete the race which is the Christian life. There may be struggles and suffering but we are to press on.
Have you been tempted at times to give up? Well don’t lose heart. Keep on keeping on until you reach that finish line.