Olympic sportsmanship

I celebrate the late summer return to school. Teams and choirs and bands are practicing. Coaches are teaching technique, and the best coaches are teaching the highest forms of sportsmanship.

Tokyo hosted this year's summer Olympic Games and I enjoyed watching several of the events, including the opening and closing ceremonies.

Along with most of America, I learned about what "twisties" were when they afflicted Simone Biles knocking her from competition, and then was inspired by 18-year-old Suni Lee as she rose to anchor the American team of gymnasts.

I was happy to see Biles finally recover for the last event and earn a bronze medal, especially noticing the way world athletes rallied to support her.

It was nice to see the humble joy of swimmer Caeleb Dressel in winning his events. I was in awe while watching the synchronized diving, an event I don't recall seeing before.

I especially appreciated seeing fine gestures of sportsmanship from a number of athletes during the games, including one commercial sponsored by Comcast entitled "The Sportsmanship Effect."

This showed both young adult and child athletes rising above competition to displays of sportsmanship. One of the clips shown was from a 5,000-meter heat of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

During the run, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell to the track causing American Abbey D'Agostino to also fall.

Remembering something about that I went to the Internet and watched clips of the race, then found an Aug. 16, 2017 article by Doug Williams for ESPN that gave marvelous follow up details for both women. Much of what I write today is from him.

He writes D'Agostino quickly rose and stood over Hamblin saying, "Get up, we need to finish this." Hamblin responded by also rising, and both young women renewed the run.

But D'Agostino, soon fell again -- and was then helped up by Hamblin. D'Agostino had torn the ACL in her right knee in the fall.

Despite the pain, she'd kept running, praying the whole way. "I didn't think she was going to finish," Hamblin said. "And yet she ran a mile with an injury." D'Agostino finished to loud cheers in 17:10.02, Hamblin met her with a hug.

Ten days before her race, D'Agostino took part in a Bible study about the power of miracles. And before she stepped to the line for the 5,000, she wrote part of a Bible verse on her hand in ink, something she's done before.

This time, it was "Now to him who is able," a piece of Ephesians 3:20: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us."

As for Hamblin, she said, "My result on the track doesn't define who I am as a person. When I was growing up, my dad would always say to me, ‘It's not about the destination. It's about the journey.' I didn't understand, like, ‘What do you mean?' But Rio, now I get it."

The two received the Pierre de Coubertin medal, an award given by the International Olympic Committee to those athletes that demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship in the Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee considers it as its highest honor, awarded for gestures of fair play in which an athlete impedes their own performance to aid a fellow competitor.

I get it too. Like the commercial was teaching, there are some things bigger than winning. I don't recall who won the gold medal in that women's event in Rio, even though she set an Olympic record.

But I do remember the semi-finals with Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D'Agostino. The Olympics celebrate the human form and the human spirit, which in pure form is the very Spirit of God breathed into us (Genesis 2:7).

May the lessons of true sportsmanship be carried with us into all the fields of life. May God's blessings be upon this year's new crop of student athletes, teachers, coaches, and sportsmanship everywhere.

Rev. John E. Flower, Jr., pastor of First United Methodist Church of Clarion.

Heavenly Father, it is with sincere hearts that we thank You for who You are and all You have given to us, by Your grace.