Qualified for the prize
Sports | Seven U.S. Olympic athletes hope to excel in London while giving glory to God
by Les Sillars
Posted 7/26/12, 02:49 pm
Media coverage of the Olympics seldom mentions the faith of the competitors, even though many of these men and women are sincere Christians. Here are brief profiles of seven world-class athletes from the United States whose boldness for Christ is something to cheer about-even if they don't bring home a medal from the London 2012 Olympic Games, which begin this weekend.
Men's 120-kilogram Freestyle Wrestling
In high school Tervel Dlagnev, 26, who was born in Bulgaria and raised in Arlington, Texas, was an avowed atheist and a troublemaker. But he became a believer through the influence of Christian teammates on his high school and college wrestling teams. Now he collects stuffed animals and his wife, Kirsten, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I feel like he pays a lot of attention and he really cares about knowing, 'Am I being a good husband? Am I giving you what you need? Am I leading you spiritually? Are there any areas I'm lacking as a husband?'"
Dlagnev has an impressive international record and a good shot at gold in London. "Jesus is my life," he wrote recently, "and it's been cool to experience Him through this sport I have a passion for."
The most dominant basketball team in the world doesn't have Lebron James. The U.S. women's team is completely stacked with talent and has several outspoken believers, most notably 6-foot forward Maya Moore, 23. At the University of Connecticut Moore was a two-time national player of the year, played on two NCAA championship teams, and was a part of a 90-game win streak. Last season she was named the WNBA Rookie of the Year as she played for the league champion Minnesota Lynx.
Moore signs her autographs with Colossians 3:23, according to Christianity Today, and last season at a Lynx Faith and Family Night, she divided the crowd into three groups to sing "Glory to God Forever."
"I often use the word 'free' to remind myself that God wants me to live my life and compete on the court free in him," she said. "Free to play great, free to make a mistake, free to learn from them. Of course, I want to win and play well, but no matter the result, I want to look back at the performance knowing I've honored the Lord."
Outside hitter Reid Priddy, 34, is a 12-year veteran of the U.S. national team and captain of a squad that won gold in Beijing but is ranked sixth in the world going into London. Since 2008, he has spent half of each year playing professionally in Russia and is considered one of the world's best players.
Priddy became a Christian in college, and in 2010 told a Russian volleyball fan magazine, "I am a Christian. [The] Bible is the most powerful book I've ever read in my life." He added that his wife, Lindsey, is "the only woman I ever loved." Their son was born in 2010.
Women's 67-kilogram Taekwondo
Paige McPherson, 21, is one of only four members of the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team. A Christian family adopted her when she was 4 days old, and they raised her in South Dakota, where her family homeschooled her. "McFierce" was a surprise to make this year's Olympic team, and she knocked off a 2004 silver medalist to do so.
McPherson became a Christian at age 16. "I have trust in the Lord that whatever happens, happens," she told the Athletes in Action website. "I know I did not get to where I am by myself. Being able to trust my Lord and have faith that whatever happens is His will, gives me the inner peace that makes me ready for anything."
Ryan Hall, 29, finished 10th in Beijing and was second at the U.S. Olympic trials. Two weeks ago The New York Times ran a lengthy profile headlined, "A Runner's Belief: God Is His Coach." The article detailed his belief in faith healing, worship at his Pentecostal church, and his unorthodox training regimen: no high-altitude training, Sabbath day rests, and lots of carbs.
Hall told the Times, "I've messed up, but the mistake wasn't on God's end. I really believe God is always wanting to speak to me and reveal secrets to me and tell me what I need to be doing. I just mess it up sometimes."
Women's 100-meter Hurdles
Lolo Jones, 30, was favored to medal at the 2008 Games but tripped on the penultimate hurdle. She barely qualified as the third member of this year's team. Jones famously told Mary Carillo on HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel (see video clip below) that remaining a virgin before marriage was the hardest thing she'd ever done, even "harder than training for the Olympics. … It's just a gift I want to give my husband."
Jones had a very unsettled childhood: Her parents were never married and are now apart.
Jones told Women's Health that to cope with stress, "I listen to a lot of Christian music, and reading my Bible calms me down immensely. But when I'm standing in a stadium packed with 80,000 screaming fans, I can't just whip out my Bible before I run. That's when I start praying!" (See "Highs and Lolo," by Mark Bergin, WORLD, June 16.)
Hunter Kemper, 36, has been running triathlons since age 10. London will be his fourth Olympics, making him one of only two men in the sport to compete in all four Games in which the event has been offered. His previous best finish was seventh in the 2008 Beijing Games, despite having just healed from a hernia.
"I was going to church, but I was just going," he said on a video on his website. "Sports became my idol."
As an adult Kemper recommitted his life to Christ. "It felt so good, it felt so good for me just to realize that there's something bigger that I need to be focusing on," he said.
See also "Faithful champions: Olympic greats from the past who have put their trust in Christ," by J.C. Derrick, from the current issue of WORLD.
Les is a WORLD Radio correspondent and commentator. He previously spent two decades as WORLD Magazine's Mailbag editor. Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College and resides in Purcellville, Va., with his family.