God, the only sure thing

The Standard August 5, 2021

If there is one thing we are reminded of every few years, it is that there is no such thing as a sure thing for an Olympic medal. Sports commentators and analysts might make their bread and butter by amping up a certain amount of hype amongst the viewers, but their predictions do not always come to pass. Too often they speak as if so-and-so will, without a doubt, be on top of the medal stand. Many times, the expected winner comes out on top. Other times, the predictions fall apart completely. Athletes can get sick or injured or have a bad day. They can get psyched out. They age. Most Olympic athletes have dedicated years to intense training, fueling their bodies correctly and preparing mentally. Sometimes the competitors known for spending unusually long hours training take home the medals and other times they don’t.

Reigning world champion Seto Daiya of Japan, who secured bronze in the men’s 400-meter individual medley in Rio, finished fifth in his qualifying heat which ended up being ninth overall. Only the top eight go on to finals. Also the reigning champion in the 200-IM, headlines announced that Seto “failed” to medal, finishing in fourth place in the finals.

In the semi-finals for the 400-meter freestyle 18-year-old Ahmed Havnaoui just barely made it to the medal round, coming in 8th place overall. Havnaoui stunned the crowd by winning gold for Tunisia, the country’s fifth ever Olympic gold medal. Previously, he was relatively unknown in the swimming world.  

Alaska has only one known 50-meter swimming pool. 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby lives too far from that, so she began training in 25 meters at her high school. She is the first swimmer from Alaska to qualify for the Olympics. When she faced fellow American Lilly King, the current world record holder and former Olympic champion in the 100-meter breaststroke, Jacoby was hoping for any medal. She surprised us by winning gold.

Athletes seen as invincible or superhuman do not win forever. As with any human achievement, it is wonderful to see people giving their all. Hopefully, we work hard towards our goals but keep in mind that our ultimate satisfaction will not come from a medal, an award a terrific family or a big salary. All of us at times can make an idol out of something that will not fulfill our deepest desires. Someone coined the phrase that as humans we each have a “God-shaped hole.”

In the 1600s physicist, mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees VII (425))

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