THE list of inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame is nearly complete. So far, Australia is represented by the inimitable track and field "Golden Girl" Betty Cuthbert whose speed and spirit enchanted us in the 1960s.
The Olympics have given us so many riveting images across the decades – of courage, endurance and achievement against the odds.
There is defiance and tragedy too, as illustrated in the series "50 Stunning Olympic Moments" put together by The Guardian in the United Kingdom. Number 13 on their list is the moment when black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the 200m gold and bronze medallists, gave the Black Power salute on the podium in Mexico in 1968.
With them on the podium was the Australian silver medallist Peter Norman, who indicated his support by wearing the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. It spelled the end of Norman's Olympic career, despite his qualifying for the 1972 Munich games. Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral in 2006.
We can't help but watch it all, and the 2012 Australian Olympic team will have most of us riveted.
But what explains our fascination, we could ask, when the Olympics is about nothing more than personal aggrandisement and nationalist bombast? That moment when the national anthem plays, the crowd roars, and the winner salutes like a demi-god who has performed the neat trick of transcending human boundaries? Not forgetting that gold medals are hard currency, drawing sponsorships and all the economic benefits of celebrity status.
"If you don't try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody's back yard," said Jesse Owens, the black
American athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, infuriating the Nazi hosts. He's right, of course.
Perhaps this is a good time to pull a neat trick of our own, one that Christians should be good at: living in this world with our eyes wide open to its vainglory and double-dealing, but with the heart to see all that is courageous and compassionate in humanity.
As Paul counselled in Romans 12:2, "Do not follow the customs of the present age, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your minds, so that you may learn from experience what God's will is – that will which is good and beautiful and perfect" (The Weymouth New Testament).
Pierre de Coubertin, prime mover for the revival of the
Olympic Games in 1894, said Billy Diehm FIRSTLY, I need to declare I am a sports tragic. I love playing, watching, reading about, coaching and driving my kids to sport. I love the whole package. Over the years I have learnt a lot of life lessons from hanging around various sporting fields. And now that I am an offi cially retired player and a coach and driver for kids' sport, it is my kids who are learning those valuable life lessons.
I love sporting clichés. Not the ones on television, but the actual coaching and playing ones that the most important thing "is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well".
Betty Cuthbert would probably agree with that.
The Golden Girl was diagnosed with the debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis in 1969 and is now wheelchair-bound.
"One of my favourite verses is Isaiah 40:31, which was given to me by my grandmother just before I ran in Melbourne.
'But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired' ," wrote Ms Cuthbert in an autobiographical reflection.
So let's cherish the Olympics for filling us with pride and inspiration, and look for all that is good and beautiful and perfect in the meeting of nations at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Go for gold, whatever it may be for you.