In a move that might seem strange for an average teen of today, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas thanked her creator after becoming the first African-American woman to win gold in the women’s individual all-around. “I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me,” she said after her historic win.
Douglas then tweeted, “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me,” sharing Psalm 103:2 with her social media following.
While her profession of faith is strong, Douglas is not the only African-American Olympian to publicly integrate her faith into her appearances at the London 2012 Games.
Even leading up to her Olympic performance, Lolo Jones gained notoriety by discussing her decision to remain a virgin until marriage with the press, a choice born of her religious dedication. When Jones did not medal — and entered a quagmire of controversy over whether she deserves her time in the limelight — her relationship with Christ helped the hurdler cope.
“In room singing Desert Song by Hillsong. It’s on repeat. Lord Jesus please comfort me, guide me, and heal my broken heart,” Jones tweeted on Tuesday after failing to place in the women’s 100-meter hurdles final. Jones had also just dealt with a disparaging report in The New York Times.
Despite this, she added over Twitter, “Also want to thank u Lord for giving me technically the best seat in the Stadium to watch the 100mh final. Congrats Sally, Dawn, and Kellie,” regarding her team mates. Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells won the silver and bronze in the 100 meter hurdles respectively.
Gold medalist Allyson Felix describes herself as a “preachers kid.” The religious values instilled in her by her parents helped the elite athlete win Olympic gold in the 2012 women’s 200 meter final and the women’s 4×100-meter relay.
“Growing up as a preacher’s kid has really grounded me,” Felix told USA Today. “I’ve grown up with these amazing parents who are hard workers, and they truly live out their faith. They’ve been amazing role models for me. I feel like I really picked up on what they taught me and kept that with me all along in my running and in my career.
“For me, my faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it’s all about using it to the best of my ability,” Felix added about the role of Christianity in her vocation.
Sanya Richards-Ross also won gold in London, medaling in the women’s 400 meter race. She told the Christianity editor of About.com that she attends church every Sunday when she is not travelling or competing. Of course, given that her winning Olympic race was last Sunday, Richards-Ross likely didn’t make it to the pews. This doesn’t mean that her religious life is any less central to her career. Richards-Ross credits Christ with her capacity to render amazing feats.
“There are so many meaningful verses to me in the Bible, but I guess the one I say to myself most often is, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!’ That’s my favorite because on the track, I am usually trying to do things that have rarely been done before,” she told About.com Guide Mary Fairchild. “I know that it’s only God that gives me the strength to accomplish these things.”
Americans are known for evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, but let’s not to forget the ancient religion’s other denominations. It should come as no surprise that Catholics are likely represented in large numbers at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Although specific numbers are scarce, as of 2011, there were well over one billion Catholics worldwide and counting. Many countries represented in the Games, ranging from Colombia to Spain, have national identities that are closely entwined with this, the planet’s single largest church.
Ethiopia is not one of those countries. Yet, Ethiopian gold medalist Meseret Defar wept into a religious icon of the Madonna and Child upon winning her 5,000-meter competition on Friday. “Once she crossed the line, Defar produced a religious image of a Virgin and child to show to the cameras before breaking down, sobbing into the picture,” The Washington Post reported. Clearly, religious devotion contributed to her moment of victory.
Gymnast Jonathan Horton and swimmer Missy Franklin have also spoken publicly about how faith has inspired them to persist in the hard work it takes to make it to the Olympics. May all of these athletes’ examples of spirituality help you harness the power of belief to make great progress in your life.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.