It’s really easy to get caught focusing on the gold, silver, and bronze medals decorating the elite at the Olympic games. Take a good look at the medals coming out of Tokyo this year. They are a marvel of intricate metal machine work, with ribbons of chemically recycled polyester fibers and hardwood cases. Obviously, a lot of thought and care has gone into the metal tradition that was started, in 1896, at the Athens games.
While the detail, materials, and thought behind the metals has changed much over the years, some traditions have changed little. Take into account the symbol on the front of the medal, the Greek goddess, Nike, who was the symbol of victory and often prayed to in battles of war and sports alike. Nike is not known for mercy and cooperation in Greek mythology but was a sentinel of Zeus’ throne. Homer even calls her the daughter of Ares, who is the God of war. Here is a snippet from a prayer to Nike in from www.goddessnike.com
“Charge our chariots strong & sturdy.
Vanquish without any mercy
Enemies of our valiant army
And give to us a divine glory
Furnished with medallions & jewelry
Everything that is worldly
Is only ours by your decree
We worship thee on bended knee.”
The Goddess Nike is an ancient tradition of war and games victory which lacks mercy and compassion. It’s an interesting modern choice for the medals at the largest worldwide competition existing today because so few believe in the ancient Greek pantheon. “Hellenism” may have as many as 2,000 legitimate adherents today, according to archeology.com, and Nike isn’t even one of the 12 main gods/goddesses worshipped in Greek culture. (http://archive.archaeology.org/0501/abstracts/letter.html)
Why has the world kept this tradition rather than honoring a deity that much of the world follows today? Why not make the medal symbol one of the Jesus, since approximately 32 percent (2.4 billion) of the world claims Christianity as its religion? He also symbolizes victory and peace at the same time. I surmise choosing to honor Christ on the Olympic medal could usher in boycotts from the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, or 1.1 billion Hindis, or 1.2 billion unaffiliated. The Olympic committee would likely be unwilling to alienate so many using an Olympic symbol from a modern religion, even if it did better promote the Olympic mission (to build a peaceful and better world) than NIKE. (https://olympics.com/ioc/beyond-the-games)
Perhaps we should focus more of our time and attention on the people on whom the medals hang rather than the image on the prestigious medals themselves. I’m so grateful for Olympic medal winners such as Caeleb Dressel (attends Campus Church of Christ, Gainesville, Florida) who chose not to honor and thank goddess Nike for his wins and abilities but chose to honor God for the opportunity to represent Him to the world. Consider how much more merciful our God is than that of Nike, as evidenced in this prayer, recited by 2016 Rio Olympian Sarah Scherer whenever she gets nervous.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.” - Matthew 6:9-13 ESV
The symbol on the prestigious medals may not be anything we want to model our lives after, but some of the people are worthwhile examples of faithful and compassionate victors on the world’s greatest sporting stage. May we give the God of victory and compassion all the honor and praise for the triumphs of the athletes and for our triumphs as well.
To follow more believers in Tokyo, consider reading in The Gospel Coalition’s about Sydney McLaughlin, Kyle Snyder, Helen Maroulis, Micah Christenson, Michael Andrew, and Melissa Gonzalez. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/christian-athletes-tokyo-olympics/