I do not own a television set, I do not like the cynicism of the Olympic organization, and I’m put off by propaganda spectacles in totalitarian countries. From this, the gentle reader may infer my opinion of the Olympic Games in Beijing. Add to this the fact I am Canadian — we don’t win many medals, do we?
On the other hand, the gliberal ruling class in my country imagines itself to be above the Olympics. They are postmodernists, who have achieved "post-nationalism," and can now save money on the extravagant national athletic programs that harvest medals for other countries. They sneer at any display of patriotism that does not specifically reinforce their own self-celebration. They are actually below the Olympics, at least in my estimation.
Worse, they probably know instinctively that a disproportionate number of Olympic competitors, from Canada and other Western countries, are "Born-Again Christians" — whether Protestant or Catholic. The gliberal media join them in becoming acutely embarrassed when the hero in the winner’s circle proclaims thanksgiving to Our Lord.
Why this should be so is a mystery to me, though not entirely. The propensity of Christians to engage in wholesome physical activities, and to accept demanding standards of discipline, may not be evident to people outside the faith in what I call the "mall culture" — but only because they avoid such things themselves. Moreover, there is a joy in reaching to the extremes of physical possibility and endurance that is not unrelated to spiritual joy. It is an honest expression of youth; it is the opposite of sedentary narcissism. A generation ago, the popular film Chariots of Fire captured this Pindaric, religious aspect of Olympic ambition.
It also captured, satirically, the bureaucratization of this ambition, and its progressive dehumanization as governments invest in the medal count for the sake of national prestige. What was launched more than a century ago — as an essentially Christian endeavor, and a celebration of the amateur — has long since become a high-stakes, professional operation. I don’t see how that can be avoided in a society that is degenerating into "secularism." The state inevitably seeks to nationalize whatever confers prestige, as part of its claim to a monopoly on virtue. (Indeed, the whole welfare state came into being as an appropriation of Christian charity.)
But there are still moments. I became aware of one in a casual e-mail, late in the evening of Saturday, August 17th:
Joe and I are watching the women’s marathon. (Or rather, we are being regaled by running "suits" significantly more revealing than the silks these runners are wearing. Perhaps we should change the channel.) The live-feed TV camera, however, seems to focus often on a petite, modestly-attired black woman. Her number is 2354, she’s from the country of Lesotho, and is running at the front of the pack. Surrounded as she is by runners who have stripped every extra ounce from their bodies to lighten the load, this gal has a strangely familiar-looking item hanging from her neck. "What is that?" Joe inquires. "Sure has a funny resemblance to . . . Wait! Is that a rosary?!"
Next morning, it took me the better part of a minute to track this via Google News, typing "Lesotho," "Olympics," and finally, "marathon" before finding a wire report from AFP
. Mamorallo Tjoka was first mentioned in the twelfth paragraph down. Here is what happened:
By the 10km mark Yelling along with 23-year-old Tjoka was still leading a group of around 40 runners. The tiny Lesotho athlete though was to suffer a grievous blow just after that when her right ankle went and she had to pull to the side of the road.
She managed to get going again and though clearly in some agony she regained the lead whilst Radcliffe moved up onto Yelling’s shoulder.
Tjoka bravely kept the lead but just after the 15km mark she pulled up again at a watering station, feeling her ankle, before trying to rejoin the fray but finally gave up, resting her head in despair on a barrier.
Correction to AFP: The expression is "desolation," not "despair." Despair would imply the loss of all hope in God’s love. I very much doubt the young lady from Lesotho would succumb to that. By contrast, desolation is the sort of thing one feels when one cannot finish the marathon.
Things happen in this world: Who can prevent them? But in the heavenly Olympics, we were honored to catch a glimpse of the runner who won the gold.