Watching the Summer Olympics is always an interesting treat, as athletic events far outside the realm of football, basketball, and baseball get their moment in the sun. From archery and indoor bicycle racing on high banked tracks, to women’s field hockey, the range of athletic endeavors is diverse indeed. But it always seems to be the more traditional activities that draw the most interest, as there is historical context that adds depth to the experience. Watching the incomparable Simone Biles perform in women’s gymnastics is made all the more interesting through memories of Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, or Oklahoma’s own Shannon Miller. Remembering Mark Spitz’s 1972 Olympics has made watching Michael Phelps win his incomparable 28th Olympic medal all the more impressive.
But for me, there was one athletic performance in these games that stood alone for its sheer dominance and virtuosity: Katie Ledecky’s world record shattering swim in the Women’s 800 Meter Freestyle.
The race was hers from the instant she left the starting block—she was in the lead from the sound of the gun until she touched the wall eight minutes and just shy of five seconds later. But what was stunning about the race was not the establishment of a world record, but that she finished over eleven second faster than the second place finisher! To consistently beat the world’s best athletes by such margins is a staggering achievement. Writing for the Washington Post, Dave Sheinan cites Michael J. Joyner, an anesthesiologist and researcher for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., specializing in human performance and physiology: “She’s dominating by the widest margin in international sport, winning by 1 or 2 percent. If [a runner] won the 10,000 meters by that wide a margin, they’d win by 100 meters. One or 2 percent in the Tour de France, over about 80 hours of racing, would be 30 or 40 minutes. It’s just absolutely remarkable.”
There is little doubt that Miss Ledecky is a gifted athlete with a physiological makeup which grants her the opportunity to compete at this level. But, the distance between her performance and that of her peers is not a result of her genetics, but of her heart and spirit. When asked what special tips or training techniques set her apart, her coach has stated there is no secret, it boils down to her willingness to do the work.
Our current sermon series, “Fully Committed,” is working out of the New Testament book of Hebrews, which includes the passage, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). What could God accomplish in our lives if we approached our discipleship with the fervor of Katie Ledecky? How would our transformation impact the world around us for the sake of the Gospel if we trained as Olympic champions? It might be interesting to explore the possibilities!