Monday Morning – August 24, 2008
Maybe the Olympics were that much more stunning simply because so many of us watched it in high definition. We’ve had high def for a while now, but those images from China were made for the big screen. The Bird’s Nest filled the pixels with dazzling color; it was the re-discovery of cinemascope right there in our living room. It was Cecil B. CeMille and a cast of thousands – this time from the heart of Communist China, of all places. And we sat transfixed.
It’s over now. We’ve got the memories. A couple weeks back, I told you about the three athletes in whom we had taken a special interest. Michael Phelps lived up to, and even surpassed the pre-competition hype. Two of those finishes will forever live in our memory. The come-from-behind 4×100 relay barely beating the French, who had the lead, all the way to the end. The Americans won. But best of all, in the 100 meter butterfly, Phelps, in a photo finish, eclipsed champion Milorad Cavic of Serbia by one one hundredth of a second. The electronic pad declared the winner in an instant, but it was so close that doubts remained until the electrifying moment could be reviewed from several angles. Sure enough, Cavic’s glide to the wall failed to nail down the lead as Phelps took a lightning-fast final half stroke to secure victory, slapping the pad just ahead of Cavic, taking home the seventh of an unprecedented eight gold medals.
The camera trained on his mother, elementary school administrator and single mom, Debbie, seated between his two sisters. The video crew caught one more unforgettable moment. Debbie watched as her son trailed just behind the Serbian. She held up two fingers, acknowledging that her her boy would fall short of his goal, and settle for his first second place. “It’s OK. It’s OK,” she thought. Until she looked at the electronic scoreboard. In complete astonishment, she caught the news. Her knees buckled. In utter disbelief, she sank to her seat, eyes like saucers. He won. Michael won. Gold. Unbelievable!
Her two daughters exploded in squeals and held her tight.
Not every winner took home the gold. I identified two other champions. They didn’t win the gold, but they are winners none-the-less. Laura Wilkinson astonished the world in Athens with her diving perfection. I wrote about her in a LeaderFOCUS back then. The American media loved her, too. They profiled her exploits in Athens, and her amazing track record in national and world competitions since. Now, at thirty-one, she still had the edge. She won a spot on the team – and as an older member, she became a beloved coach, mentor and encourager to the younger members of the team. She sent a personal response email to the LeaderFOCUS I forwarded to her four years ago. I signed up a few weeks back to her web-site newsletter. Here’s her note just before the final competition –
For my prayer warriors out there, please pray that I can focus on Jesus and let all the other “junk” go- like results, expectations, what people think, etc. The focus of most of my prayers are for the people watching, both in the 17,000 seat venue and watching on tv. I’m praying that they will see the light of Jesus and that this place will become a House of Praise for Him! I’m just excited to be His servant here!
She finished wthout a medal – but the standing ovation on her final dive told a different kind of story.
Perhaps my favorite moment of all came when Allyson Felix, after a “disappointing” silver medal in the women’s 200 meter race. She knew she could win it. But she finished sixty-two hundredths of a second behind Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown in a rematch which was an eerie repeat of Athens. In between Olympic games, she faced the world-class runner – and won. But the commentators noted – she just didn’t have the edge in Beijing.
Add to that the fumbling of the baton in the women’s 4×100 relay – and the third expected medal vanished into thin air. Allyson worked for three gold medals. She settled for one gold and one silver.
After the prime time 200 meter race, with all the hype and backgrounders, behind her fierce Jamaican competitor, she turned and trotted back to the gallery. She stopped briefly to smile for the camera and tell the world that she’s happy to have competed on the world stage at this level and that Veronica earned her gold that day. She smiled bravely. A class act. Some ninety-thousand fans filled the Bird’s Nest and looked on as Allyson, draped in an American flag, found her family, her mom and dad, Marlene and Paul, and her brother Wes, and they held on to one another as the camera looked on. Allyson let the emotion go, and her family spoke words of love and pride and care to their amazing daughter and sister. Here’s the note I sent to my friend Paul that night…
What a sweet moment in “The Birds Nest”… as Allyson came to terms with a “disappointing” silver, she gathered with her mom and dad and brother on the sideline, draped in the American flag, and you spoke to her and loved on her… there were tears in our eyes; ours were not disappointment – rather we were deeply moved by the warmth of a family; a witness of what God can do when a family honors Him. Who’d a thunk, Paul, when you left Toyota to follow a calling that transcended a corporate computer career… I’m proud of you, buddy. But mainly, as I’ve watched your calling unfold, to see the enormous blessing of a beautiful wife, son and daughter, a champion whose real goal is to be teacher, like her Mom. The world is inspired. So are we.
Take time to watch the NBC Nightly News video on Allyson and her family. She’s seen as the new breed of drug-free athlete, who in the shadow of the Marian Jones debacle, is bringing integrity and character back to the sport.
On this Monday morning, post-Bejing, let’s take those amazing moments of inspiration, and make them our own.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008