Commentators on the Olympics speculate as never before about the decline of the Games, wondering whether London 2012 might see the end of this extraordinary quadrennial gathering of the world's athletes.
Frank Deford suggested on National Public Radio that the "big show" might be viewed as an "unnecessary excess." He said the Games had "ended up as a festival for those sports that nobody much cares about for the other three years and 50 weeks."
In complete contrast, former Olympic track-and-field coach and Olympic historian John Lucas, who has attended every one of the Games for the past 48 years, digs beneath the surface to identify spiritual qualities and lessons he's convinced will hold the Games together for many years to come.
In an interview with the Christian Science Sentinel, Mr. Lucas unhesitatingly said that despite the world wars that canceled the Games in 1916, 1940, and 1944, and the security threats and boycotts that substantially reduced the number of competitors in Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980, and Los Angeles in 1984, he still believes in the dream of the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. This was to create a truce in the affairs of nations, so that they could come together to celebrate the universality of humankind and show that participation in an event like this was more important than victory.
Coubertin saw the Games as more than an ambitious sports competition. He called for the organizers to glorify beauty by including "the philosophical arts." Hence the spectacle of the opening ceremonies and the festivals held alongside the main sports events. Coubertin believed that the rich diversity of God's gifts would flourish in a broader framework, with no one left out.
And Beijing is no different, says Lucas. "There is so much more to the Games than the running, jumping, swimming, daring gymnastic routines, or throwing the javelin," he says. "For me, as a Christian Scientist, it's a place where you can't help being aware that the divine Mind is in action. A place where more athletes than you realize are living one of my favorite Bible passages, '[We] can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth [us]' " (Phil. 4:13).
He continues: "I think you'd be amazed to learn how many competitors embrace deep and abiding spiritual ideas. They have discovered something infinitely higher, and greater, and stronger, and more durable than all the physical training they might have done. Sometimes they hide it because they're shy about their feelings. At other times they feel inadequate to express themselves fluently in words – least of all with a microphone stuck under their nose as they cross the finish line. But don't underestimate them. Often their humble gratitude to 'God Almighty' is really pretty eloquent – and has contributed enormously to the quality of their performance."
These days many coaches don't hesitate to pose such questions as: Where are your thoughts anchored? Are you at peak mental fitness? Has your spiritual training kept pace with your physical conditioning?
Many Olympians welcome such questions and toss back heartfelt answers, confirming their faith in God's power and unconditional love for everyone, without regard for race, nationality, or Olympic classification. Their experience as competitors has become balanced and enriched. Cultivating an understanding of everyone's relation to God plays a key role in dissolving divisiveness, personality conflicts, win-at-all-costs attitudes (including the use of performance-enhancing drugs), and enmity between rival teams and nations.
As spiritual thinkers around the world join in prayer for the Games' smooth passage and success, they will grow increasingly confident that God will be with everyone throughout every event. The Olympics in Beijing is providing another opportunity for people from all corners of the globe to unite in giving of their best not only in competition but toward the healing of nations.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.