Faith in the Arena: USA Olympic Athletes Expressing Their Convictions

The Summer Olympics just wrapped up with the USA leading all countries in gold medals (39) and overall medal count (113). For many athletes, the Summer Games bring the brightest spotlight of their career. For many Christian athletes, not only do they showcase their world-class talents, but they also showcase the Christian faith that motivates them and helps them keep their feats (and failures) in perspective. 

American track and field athlete Sydney McLaughlin set the world record in the women’s 400 meter hurdles in Tokyo, bringing home gold. In an Instagram post, McLaughlin said,

…what an honor it is to be able to represent not only my country but also the kingdom of God. What I have in Christ is far greater than what I have or don’t have in life. I pray my journey may be a clear depiction of submission and obedience to God.

McLaughlin also won gold in the 4×400. Two of her teammates in that event are also outspoken Christians. 

Teammate and veteran Allyson Felix became the most decorated American Track and Field athlete in history winning her 10th and 11th olympic medals. At 35, she is also the oldest American woman to win a track and field gold. In 2012, she told USA Today: “For me, my faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it’s all about using it to the best of my ability.”

When Felix shared her testimony with Athletes in Action, she also spoke of the role her parents played: 

My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. My dad is a [seminary professor] and I grew up in a very strong Christian home. Our family was very involved in our church. I am so blessed to have my family and the upbringing that I did. It means so much to me to have two very godly parents who both have so much wisdom. They are amazing role models that I have had the privilege to watch as I grew up.

Fellow 4×400 gold medalist, Athing Mu, also took gold in the women’s 800. At only 19, she became the first American woman to win the 800 meter race since 1968. She recently told WomensRunning.com, “The only thing I can do is thank God because without Him, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I’ve done this season.”

Swimmer Caeleb Dressel brought home five golds and set two olympic records and two world records in individual and team swimming events in Tokyo. 

He’s easily identified in the pool by the tattoo sleeve he sports with a prominent eagle crowning his shoulder. He said it was inspired by his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31: “But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles.” He also said he’s in the sport, not to post fast times, “but to inspire people and show them where I find my happiness with what God’s given me.” 

Wrestler Kyle Snyder fell just short of a consecutive gold in his sport, taking home silver in the 97kg class in Tokyo. In 2016, he became the youngest gold medalist in US Olympic wrestling history. After a loss in 2018, a reporter asked him how the loss would define him. He said,

Wins or losses don’t define me. I mean, I love wrestling; it’s a big part of my life; but I’m not defined by the sport. I’m defined by my faith in Jesus.

Many other Christian athletes competed in the Olympics this year from the USA and around the world. Their example demonstrates how to express a love for God on the world’s biggest stage, as well as how to keep life’s ups and downs in Christian perspective.