Gold Medal Faith

Amid all the hoopla surrounding the Olympics, my mind drifts back to the last summer games. That’s when we witnessed what has been dubbed the single greatest upset in Olympic history. On September 27, 2000, 29-year-old Rulon Gardner, who grew up on a Wyoming dairy farm, walked into the Exhibition Hall in Sydney, Australia. That’s when the “Miracle on the Mat” happened—he pocketed a gold medal after defeating the world’s greatest wrestler of all time, Russian Alexander Karelin.

Mind you, this Russian had never lost in international competition. He’d never even been scored on in 10 years! He pummeled opponents despite broken ribs, torn muscles and opposing coaches who spent years strategizing just to beat him. Alexander was considered the most intimidating athlete in Olympic history, so feared by opponents that two prior finalists essentially quit on the mat rather than absorb the pounding. And, according to legend, the Russian once carried a refrigerator home from the store and up seven flights of stairs.

So no one expected the American to win. In fact, the International Olympic Committee chairman even showed up at the match in order to present the Russian his fourth gold medal—a medal he wouldn’t get.

After the historic match, reporters swarmed around Rulon. “When did you think you could beat him?” they asked.

“When did I think I could beat him? About 10 minutes ago,” he replied. “I kept saying, ‘I think I can. I think I can.’ But it wasn’t until it was over that I knew I could.”

Turns out that Rulon used a simple strategy to counter Alexander’s dreaded lifts and relentless pressure. He approached the match with only two things on his mind: stay focused and hang on. And for nine excruciating minutes, that’s exactly what he did. Now Rulon is a legendary hero.

When you think about it, Rulon’s strategy is one that extends beyond the wrestling mat. After all, it’s easy to lose our focus in the spiritual battle that we all must fight. In the end, “staying focused” and “hanging on” is the stuff of which spiritual legends are made.

One spiritual hero, Abraham, comes to mind. Scripture records this about him: “By faith Abraham…made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8–10, NIV).

Notice what Abraham focused on: “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” That’s a good thing to remember the next time you get beat up in life. When Mom grounds you without really listening to your story, when your friend leaks a nasty secret about you in church, when cancer claims your father—don’t despair.

Stay focused. Hang on. The day is coming when the brutal battle will be over. Jesus will explode in the eastern sky, and He will wipe away every tear from your eye. He will put an end to death, crying and pain (see Revelation 21). And we will ascend to heaven—victorious in Christ Jesus!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

September 01, 2004 / Fresh Start