Olympic hype

With the London Olympics now in their second week, we’ve had our fair share of stories filled with triumph, surprise, excellence and sportsmanship. 

To say the Olympics is inspirational is an understatement.

And when it comes to the Olympics, inspiration is often accompanied with hype. We sure love to celebrate our beloved athletes! But to be honest, I think there is way too much hype for certain athletes in the Olympics. Don’t get me wrong, the achievements of Usain Bolt (makes fast look easy!), Michael Phelps (another 4 gold medals!), and Missy Franklin (4 gold medals at age 17) deserve some hype.

But when their excellence becomes the benchmark for everyone’s excellence, hype becomes unreasonable. And as expectations are not met, both athletes and fans trade the hype for disappointment.

Media coverage does well to tell the stories of the many Olympic athletes, bringing a face to the often obscure sports that comprise the Olympic games. But how the stories are told can be a problem. Unreasonable hype surrounds athletes who, if we’re honest, don’t offer the guarantee for success that coverage suggests.

How do we respond when repeated promos for an athlete's greatness and “sure” success are followed by a last place finish, a tripped over hurdle, hometown failure, or this doozy of a dive back flop?

With all the hype for greatness, everyone is set up for disappointment.

Which has me thinking: What do we do with the disappointment at the Olympics?

And seeing as the Olympics have a way of acting as a sort-of microcosm of our lives (i.e. the journey of struggle and success) I can’t help but also consider this: What do we do with disappointment in life?

A few times in the Bible, life and faith is related to athletics - “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1). As a Christian and a fan of sport, I think the metaphor has stood the test of time. It makes sense

But how the Bible defines success won’t always make sense, particularly to the modern Olympic fan where hype is all we know.

The true nature of the race - to follow Jesus - is one that gets little hype. It’s a race with no guarantee of victory and accolades - a race characterized by servanthood and suffering. It’s by the example and teaching of Jesus that we know:

"The last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt. 20:16).

and

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)

The Olympics remind us that for every storybook ending there are countless untold stories of frustration, loss, failure, and disappointment. And our Olympic hype only exacerbates the situation.

But the Christian story offers an alternative to the hype-disappointment cycle of so many Olympic stories. Hype and success aren’t always what they seem. And it is possible to have hope amidst failure. Failure and disappointment don’t have the last word. In fact, in God’s failure (Jesus’s death) we see the greatest victory of all (Jesus’s resurrection)!

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