When you need your father to finish.
“If you're the Olympic champion,” mused Usain Bolt, “then they have to wait four more years to get you again.” True – but Usian’s time is up. On Sunday, 14 August, we will see if American Justin Gatlin is able to maintain his form to beat Bolt for the 100m gold medal. Except we won’t. Like most of my compatriots I’ll be in bed when the final is broadcast on BBC1 at 2.25 am. As I will be for the opening ceremony to be shown late tonight. So it’s difficult to get excited about the Rio Olympics, now overshadowed by several controversies – the Russian state-led drug cheating, the cost of staging the Games at the expense of the very poor in the favelas and the political crisis engulfing the host nation. However, it can take just one spark, one compelling individual to excite our attention and set the Games alight It could be a moment of rare genius, such as Mark Spitz winning seven swimming golds at Munich in 1972 or four years later in Montreal when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci made the perfect score of 10.0. But there again it could be an sportsperson who loses spectacularly and in some style. My personal Olympic hero is, of course, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards who won our hearts if not the ski jump at Alberta in 1988. For once I stayed up to watch his breath-taking performance. (Note to me: see the Eddie the Eagle film released earlier this year). However, one of my most moving Olympic moments has to be the men’s 400m semi-finals in Barcelona in 1992 – the Olympian who never gave up. Our very own Derek Redmond. Despite a history of ongoing injury Redmond had medal potential. He ran the fastest time in the first round, and went on to win his quarter-final. However, in the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight his hamstring tore. And that was it. Except it wasn’t. He stood up and started limping to the finish, some 250m away. Suddenly this guy appears from the crowd, pushing security aside to support Redmond now showing some anguish. It was Jim, Derek’s father. Apparently Jim told his son to stop, in case the injury might heal in time for him to compete in the relay. Derek refused. “Well then,” he replied “we’re going to finish this together.” So warding off officials who wanted him to clear the track, he supported his son to the end of the race. You can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2G8KVzTwfw “I’m the proudest father alive, I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.” That’s what fathers do. It’s hard to think of a more compelling demonstration of the fatherhood of God. Certainly Jesus’ most powerful parable, at least for me, has to be the prodigal son. In this culture fathers just don’t run. It is beneath their dignity. But who cares what people think if your wayward and self-obsessed son returns home. Who cares if the world is watching when your son needs your help? As Henri Nouwen observes in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming: “God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself.” For how did Jim urge his son on? He kept telling Derek: “You’re a champion, you’ve got nothing to prove.” That’s as good a definition of God’s grace as you’ll get.