10 Biblical Figures and their Olympic Sports

With the London 2012 Summer Olympics in full swing, one’s thoughts naturally turn to certain topics, such as “Would St. Paul have been better at track or fencing?”

To save you the time, I’ve assembled a helpful list of men and women from the Bible and matched them with the appropriate Olympic sport.

Gold Medalists

Let’s start with the people who would have been good at their sports.

  1. David – Hammer Throw. This seems like the most similar to using a sling, right?
  2. Samson – Weight Lifting. Too easy.
  3. Joseph – 100m Sprint. Joseph, of dreamcoat fame, was so fast that he could run out of his own clothes.
  4. Mark – 200m Sprint. Ditto. Seriously, what is up with guys in the Bible running out of their clothes?
  5. Deborah – Judo. You didn’t want to mess with Deborah. 
  6. Peter – Swimming (100m Freestyle). I don’t know how fast a Galilean boat full of fish could move, but Peter’s swimming victory still seems impressive.
  7. Miriam – Steeplechase. Staying close to your baby brother’s Nile-borne basket couldn’t have been easy.

The Runners-Up

But not everyone’s a winner in the Olympics. So here are a few less-than-triumphant competitors.

  1. King Saul – Javelin. He doesn’t seem to have been the most skilled with this weapon, which was good for David.
  2. Jonah – Diving. With everything else Jonah did wrong, the least he could have done is jumped overboard himself.
  3. Absalom – Equestrian (any event). If you can’t even ride a mule without getting your hair caught in a tree, I wouldn’t recommend dressage. Though the hats might have helped.

Do you have any suggestions to add?

The Running Animal, Part 2

2252094080_73913ef22f.jpgUsain Bolt might be the “world’s fastest human” at nearly 30 mph – or is it Haile Gebrselassie, the world-record holder in the marathon, who can run 26.2 miles at about 12 mph? Cameron Stracher at the WSJ notes that Bolt, over short distances, is only the 30th fastest animal in the world (even housecats are faster!), but only Siberian Huskies and Arabian horses can beat Gebrselassie over long distances. (HT: Dave Parry via Twitter)

My addition: where did Huskies and Arabian horses come from? Human beings, who bred them specifically for long-distance running. The genetic accomplishments of our ancestors are consistently under-appreciated. Yesterday, a story on NPR noted that, during the 19th century, there were 7,000 named varieties of apples in the United States. Named. As in, someone, somewhere, had created or found the variety, named it, and passed it on to others. Today, there are only 300. I marvel at people from the long past who were able to breed a dog or horse to fit a specific need.

I’ve seen this long-distance running phenomenon up close and personal. We are the proud owners of a 5-month-old Borador. She is fast. But I’ve taken her running with me a few times, and she simply has no wind – after less than a mile, she starts dragging. It will be interesting to see if how much endurance she can build up. (She’s also recovering from a broken front paw and doesn’t quite have full strength back.)

I’ve mused on humans as running animals before. Maybe I’m more sensitive to this topic right now because I’m training for a half-marathon in October. Someone told me that I would be amazed at how quickly I can add miles to my runs, and it’s true. Though I’m in good shape (much better shape than I’ve been in years), I’ve never done any kind of distance running, and I’m pretty slow (11 to 15 minute miles). Last Saturday, I ran 6 miles and could have run 2 or 3 more. Praise God for how he has designed us.

Photo: That is NOT me. A model running with his huskies, from David of Earth via Flickr.

The Olympics as a Cultural Artifact

Andy Crouch’s new book, Culture Making, offers 5 questions that you should ask about cultural artifacts (i.e. cultural goods, things that make up a culture) if you want to understand it better:

  1. What does the cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does it assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does it make possible?
  4. What does it make impossible (or at least more difficult)?
  5. What new culture is created in response?

On his website, Andy is asking these questions about the Olympics, and asking others to join the conversation.  (At the very least, you should check it out for the cool response format Andy has set up.)

Athletes as Role Models Human Beings

There was an ad in this morning’s paper that confused me.  It was for Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project, and the ad started with this scenario: “Your sons favorite ballplayer just got arrested.” There is then a looping, swooping string of possible advice to give your son – I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a variety of options or a single conversation – that read,

Say he’s an example of how NOT to act -> Athletes aren’t role models -> Keep your opinions to yourself. -> Life’s all about second chances. -> Who am I to judge?

I’m not really sure what “keep your opinions to yourself” is all about; I’m not familiar with any U.S. athletes being arrested as political prisoners.  But it struck me that we talk a lot about athletes being role models or not being role models, either as good citizens or bad seeds, as if a person was one or the other and could never change.  Here in Cincinnati in recent years, we’ve had our share of “bad seed”-type athletes (or so we think – more on that in a second).  Most of the time, they are either written off altogether as too much risk, or their athletic ability earns them a second, third, or fourth chance to be on the team. Our city has also had its share of  “role model” athletes, who are put on such a high pedestal that they seem almost like gods.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to have had a local athlete who has given us a glimpse of true reality: Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was a golden boy, the #1 pick in the baseball draft, who quickly turned into a “bad seed,” complete with drug addictions and scary-looking tattoos.  But then, so far as anyone can tell these types of things, Hamilton was converted to Christ, and, through the power of Christ, his life has been transformed and redeemed.  Praise God.

We tend to lump athletes (all celebrities, really) into “good guys” and “bad guys,” as if life were some sort of action movie or pro wrestling set-up. We tend not to take the time to think about athletes as human beings who happen to be extraordinarily gifted in one area of life, who are made in God’s image, who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and who are in need of Christ to redeem their lives.

The Liberty Mutual ad was not Christian, did not even suggest what the right way to approach their scenario might be.  (The ad’s tag line is “What’s the responsible point of view? Everyone has one.  Let’s hear yours.”  I don’t think I buy the idea that “everyone” has a “responsible” point of view.)  Yet it motivated me to pray for some of the local athletes who have gotten themselves into trouble.  They are usually young men doing the stupid, destructive things that young men tend to do.  I really don’t care if they get their athletic careers back on track, since the celebrity and wealth that come from those careers seems to be enabling their destructive behavior.  But I confess that, for the first time, I was moved to pray for them and their families, that Christ would redeem their lives, and heal both their wounds and the wound they have inflicted on others.

May God make it so.