The Winter Olympics: A Lesson in Hope

Evan Lysacek of the United States performs during the men's free skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)
Evan Lysacek of the United States performs during the men’s free skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)
This February brings about a very special time in the sports calendar that comes around only once every four years: the Winter Olympics. The coastal resort town of Sochi, Russia, has been selected to play host to the world this winter. There will likely be much fanfare and media attention given to the medalists and other contenders whose prominence transcends their own sport. Over the years, Kristi Yamaguchi, Peekaboo Street, and Shaun White have become names familiar to the U.S. Olympic enthusiast. Additionally, athletes competing in sports particularly popular during the Winter Games have become household names and a part of the pop cultural landscape, sometimes for the drama beyond the sport itself (think: Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding). This year we have already seen Jason Brown rise to quick stardom, and countless Olympic fans have their eyes on the track-star turned bobsledder, LoLo Jones. Figure skaters, skiers, snowboarders, and bobsledders may become worldwide stars … for at least a moment.

But of the hundreds of athletes who receive medals (or at least contend for one), there are thousands of others who remain anonymous, from corners of the globe often forgotten and whose names will likely never be known by the masses. For these athletes and their supporters, the Olympic Games are still momentous and the culmination of lifelong dreams. For many, the real victory is in the journey to the Olympics. Sport has served as a way to cope with life, to focus on one’s talent, and remain on a hopeful journey toward one’s dreams. Here and abroad, athletes put their entire lives on hold for the culmination of a goal … the goal to compete.

Just getting to the Olympics requires a rather special dedication. I could hardly imagine practicing day in and day out for months and years on one task, one skill, or one experience, totally and completely motivated by hope.

One of the great byproducts of sport is its relation to causes of justice. Many athletes have few other opportunities out of poverty, war, or oppression. Their hopes lay in the opportunity sport presents them. Athletes anticipate the day when their sport might bring them away from their challenges or pain. Or may one day help them become a beacon of change. For these are not selfish hopes. Rather, an athlete’s hope is really bound to his or her hope in humanity. Additionally, Olympians often bring with them the hopes of their families, their communities, and their nations. Regardless of political conflict, war, or other hardships, the Olympic Games are a time for hope in ourselves and in our global community. By participating in sport, an athlete is entrenching themselves in a very human and physical thing. Sport really is one of the most natural expressions of our human condition.

That is why the world is so captivated by the Olympics. The concept is something practically beyond all comprehension. Thousands of athletes from all corners of the globe gather at one time and place to compete. Not only do they compete, but these are the best athletes in their fields. The fastest skaters, the most agile skiers, and the most talented snowboarders are all together at the Olympics. What a gift it is to see those at the top of their sports, compete to do their best.

Furthermore, there is so much at play beyond sport. The Olympic Games are a time when citizens from throughout the world encounter one anther in a common place with common passions. Within the context of the Olympics, diplomacy becomes the language of the games, and hospitality its agent. Only rarely is that expectation breached. For the most part, athletes and countries come to the Olympics for a few weeks of concord, competition, and community.

This is the peaceful and precise hope in the hearts of many Olympians. It’s not necessarily the hope to win gold, but something much deeper. What is really at the heart of the Olympics is the journey of hope toward a new and fulfilling dream including, yet
even beyond, sport itself.

Inspired by the hope and drive of this year’s Olympians? Want to be more spiritually fit in your life? Tune in for the Busted Halo® Spiritual Olympics beginning February 17 at We’ll have profiles of some spiritual greats and tips for getting — and staying — spiritually fit.