How 14 Olympians Abide in the Shadow of the Almighty

Allyson Felix (USA) of the U.S. celebrates winning gold.
Allyson Felix (USA) of the U.S. celebrates winning gold. (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

The Olympic Summer Games in Rio that captivated the world over the past two weeks were a cross-section of human emotion—exhilarating pride and crushing setbacks, immensely exciting victories and disappointing defeats, countless highs and some lows too, which all made for lasting memories.

Since August began, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been following an impressive list of athletes with FCA connections who talked about their faith journeys with the international sports ministry. Here are the updates from their time in Rio, as they represented the U.S.A.

Track and Field
Allyson Felix
Allyson Felix made history at her fourth Olympic Games, with two golds as part of the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams and a silver in the 400-meter run. Felix is now the most decorated U.S. female track and field athlete ever, with six golds and a total of nine Olympic medals overall. As always, she knows none of it is for her glory, but for the one who created her to do amazing things in front of millions of people.

She was narrowly edged out for gold in the 400-meter race. Then part of a unique single-team semi-final run when Brazil's relay team was disqualified after one of its runners bumped Felix during the baton handoff, the world-class sprinter was the picture of grace, doling out the credit to her talented teammates.

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"I never expected to be a professional athlete," she says. "I had to really trust Him and His plan for my life. We always have our own idea of how our life is going to go, but we really have to follow the Lord's will. I had to trust Him in regards to injuries and other life situations. I'm a competitor, so I definitely want to win every event I'm in. But I feel like I'm able to enjoy the journey and the process now. I feel very blessed to have a platform, and to try my best to run for a living and bring glory to God through that."

Midway through the Games, FCA also debuted a new, exclusive video featuring Felix, where the Olympic champion said that her work with FCA allows her to leave her mark beyond track and field.

"It's always been really great to be able to have an impact on young people's lives, and sport has done so much for my life, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with your faith," she says in the video. "I would love to leave a legacy—a feeling like I accomplished a lot on the track, but that I was someone who you could look at and say that they do have faith and that I tried to live my life for Christ. To me that's important—that effort to try to follow His will."

Read Felix's FCA story here.

Jenny Simpson
Jenny Simpson went to Rio for her third Olympics. She returned home to Boulder, Colorado, empty-handed in 2012 and 2008, but this time, Simpson came away with bronze, and her emotions spilled out after her long road to the podium. First a scream of victory, then a fall to the track, then the tears of joy and relief came. Simpson also carved out a piece of history as the first American woman to bring home an Olympic medal in the 1500-meter event.

"In endurance sports, state of mind is so important. I have to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)," Simpson told FCA. "It is difficult, but I certainly get a lot of practice through my training and races. The fear that God won't come through—or any other negative thought, for that matter—has to be directly handed to the Lord. Having the ability to do that has made me stronger as an athlete simply by knowing that I can bring any thought under submission to His truth."

Read Simpson's FCA story here.

Christa Harmotto Dietzen
Under legendary coach Karch Kiraly and behind the steady leadership of women's team captain Christa Harmotto Dietzen, the U.S. won bronze after facing tough teams in a grueling tournament.

Before Rio, Dietzen talked about her faith journey in FCA Magazine, where she said that she struggled to incorporate her faith and her sport. Eventually, her identity became entangled with her volleyball performance, until she attended an FCA event and everything gained perspective.

"I didn't really understand what a relationship with God looked like," she told FCA. "I didn't understand why I would let God into volleyball. ... You learn a lot about yourself and how much you really do try to control things. When I didn't want to walk through the gym door to practice because I was so afraid to fail again, what kept me going in those moments was the belief that God has something bigger in mind. He was building my character and drawing me closer to Him."

Read Dietzen's FCA story here.  

Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath

The soccer world was shocked when the strong U.S. women's team was defeated by Sweden in the quarterfinals. Sweden eventually went on to win silver. Two on the American team had talked with FCA about their faith, which was certainly tested with the loss.

Morgan Brian, for example, knows there will be many chances to leave her mark—in different ways.

"It's my desire to bring new players under my wing and leave a similar lasting legacy in their lives," Brian told FCA. "I feel like I've been given this platform as a professional athlete for a reason. It's not just about fulfilling my childhood dreams. It's bigger than that. I can see the purpose—to make a difference in people's lives and point them to the one who saved me: Christ, my Lord."

Read Brian's FCA story here.

Heath once struggled with her identity being primarily wrapped up in soccer. After disappointing losses like the one in Brazil, Heath knows that when life doesn't live up to expectations, there is a deeper lesson to learn.

"I had the mindset that my faith was just sort of an add-on," Heath wrote for FCA Magazine, "that I was a soccer player who was also a Christian. A real relationship with Christ seemed almost too personal for me at the beginning, but ... I came to realize that what people see of me should be Christ and Christ alone. They shouldn't have to dig deeply to see Him in my life. I grew to the point where I wanted my whole life to reflect His glory. I wanted it to be something I fearlessly declared and walked in sincerely. I knew I wouldn't be perfect, but just as I continued to work hard at soccer, I wanted to continue to develop my personal character into one that would be pleasing to God."

Read Heath's FCA story here.

Tamika Catchings and Maya Moore

The U.S. women's basketball team again proved to be a powerhouse, winning Olympic gold for the sixth consecutive time. Tamika Catchings played in her fourth and final Olympics, now with four golds, and will retire from the WNBA's Indiana Fever after her 15th season.

"To whom much is given, much is expected," Catchings told FCA. "Through this platform I'm able to reach out and help others. I'm just so thankful to have a platform to help kids reach their goals and their dreams. Twenty years from now, you'll have to look at a book to see who won [the WNBA championship] and who was MVP. There were a lot of people who helped me. I realize I'm here today because of them."

Read Catchings' FCA story here.

Now with her second gold medal, Maya Moore made her mark again at the Olympics. She has played around the world and chalked up countless accolades, but she's grounded on who gets the glory.

"Every year that goes by, the Lord outdoes Himself. I'm just trying to do my best to make the most out of each of the doors He opens," Moore told FCA. "Even though I've got a lot of awards and honors, it's nothing compared to what the Lord has done to my heart and what He's done for the world. It's so important to actually go and make that a part of your life because it's easy to let it slip away. There are so many distractions and things you can do with your time. It's easy to look up and realize that another week has gone by and you haven't gone to church. And that stuff wears on your soul; your heart gets hard. It's just like anything important in your life; you have to make time for it."

Read Moore's FCA story here.

Diving and Swimming
David Boudia and Steele Johnson

David Boudia and Steele Johnson paired up for the synchronized platform diving finals early in the Games, taking home a silver medal behind China in the competitive field—the best finish for the U.S. in men's synchronized platform diving.

Boudia, who also won bronze later in the Games in the individual 10-meter platform event, told FCA for its "6 Questions" magazine feature this month: "I intentionally bring Jesus into my competition by giving the results to Him. He has already walked through it, and I just need to be a vehicle for His glory."

And Johnson, whose emotions let loose once the pair's silver medal was secured, gave this advice to young athletes: "Don't think about winning. Yes, you want to have goals, like I have of going to the Olympics and winning a medal; but if that's the only thing I'm working for, then I'm just going to find a lot of anxiety and depression if it never happens."

Read Johnson's FCA story here.

Kelsi Worrell
University of Louisville swimmer Kelsi Worrell serves as an FCA Huddle Leader on campus and made her Olympic debut by winning her heat in the 100m butterfly early in the Games with a time of 56:97. Worrell was fourth after all heats, but finished ninth in the semi-finals, missing the finals by just .03 seconds.

Then later in the Games, Worrell got her chance to medal in the pool again, swimming the preliminary race as part of the 4x100-meter medley relay team. Worrell and three other first-time Olympians turned in an awesome performance, ensuring a great spot in the finals for their teammates who ultimately won the race—and gold. Many may not know that, in Olympic swimming, those who swim in the preliminary rounds are also awarded a medal if their teammates are victorious later in the finals.

"I know God's got my back," Worrell told Kentucky's Courier-Journal. "He knows the results, and that's what gives me the most peace ... If it's His will for me to move on from the meet, that's awesome and I know I can glorify Him through that. If not, then I know He's got a better plan."

Chang Hye-jin 
Chang Hye-jin attended FCA Korea Sports Leadership Camp in 2014 and traveled to Rio to represent South Korea in both the women's individual and women's team archery competitions. Hye-jin won the women's individual archery gold and teamed with Choi Mi-sun and Ki Bo-bae to help South Korea to the women's team archery gold.

Read Change Hye-jin's story and more about FCA International here.

Jordan Burroughs and Brandon Slay

A wrestler to watch in Rio, Jordan Burroughs—husband, dad to two and four-time world champion who had expectations for gold for himself—lost in the quarterfinals in a tough field. "Wrestling," Burroughs told NBC Sports, is a "humbling sport" and the lost was the "hardest day of my life."

"Athletes are some of the most influential, if not the most influential people in society," said Burroughs, who is also part of the FCA Wrestling New Testament Bible. "FCA gives us an outlet to use the gospel and promote our faith. We can be the most visible stewards of our gifts."

Read Burroughs' FCA story here.

Behind the scenes of U.S.A. Wrestling in Rio was coach Brandon Slay. Though raised around Scripture, Slay sought the comforts of the world while at college. Later, he found a real and refreshing faith at the national training center in Colorado Springs while prepping for an eventual gold medal win in the 2000 Olympics. Today, he's passionate about being a witness for Christ through the sport.

"(God has) encouraged me that there's a greater gold, a greater treasure, and it's Him. He's the fulfiller, He's the one I should draw my value from," Slay told FCA. "There's nothing on the Earth that could ever fulfill me. Once you understand that, you can live a much healthier life. You can be like the disciples—just following Jesus wherever He goes, changing the world. Keep Him right in front of you and you'll be fine. God didn't create us in His image to be fulfilled by things of this world. The golds of this world are tarnishing, and moths and rust destroy them. We are only truly fulfilled and eternally satisfied when we draw our value from Christ alone."

Read Slay's FCA story here.

Gerina Piller

Entering Saturday's final round on a beautiful Rio course, Gerina Piller was tied for second in the silver medal position, just two strokes behind the leader. Piller ultimately fell to a 3-over 74 to finish in a tie for 11th. Her disappointment was evident after signing her scorecard, but her husband, Martin, told that his wife would bounce back from the Olympic setback.

Piller and her faith story have been featured in FCA Magazine, most recently in the May/June 2016 issue, where she said, "We live in a broken world in need of a Savior. That Savior has come in Jesus. That truth sets us free. Ministries like FCA help carry on that message of hope."

Gerina and Martin, also a golfer who plays on the PGA Tour, were featured in FCA Magazine in 2011 as well. Read their story here.

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