fallen marathoner

Olympic Spiritual

Every two years athletes from around the world gather for a ritual called the Olympics. The events, whether winter or summer, are predicated upon sacrifice and culminate in a solemn ceremony of the victorious; the ritual of standing upon a podium to receive an Olympic medal. For the gold medal recipient the ceremony includes the playing of their country’s national anthem.
While we may scoff at people who stand on ceremony, we use ritual as a symbolic representation of those deep feelings we share as humans. The lighting of the Olympic flame is both ritual and ceremony and those honored to carry the torch are themselves symbols of the Olympic spirit.
In Rio, the final torch bearer was Vanderli Cordeiro de Lima, a former Brazilian marathon runner with a name far longer and far less recognized than the Brazilian soccer star Pele’ who bowed out due to illness. De Lima distinguished himself at the Olympics for winning the marathon bronze medal in Athens in 2004 and for being awarded the medal for sportsmanship at those Olympics.
Unlike Gold, Silver and Bronze, the sportsmanship medal is not bestowed at every Olympic Games. It has now been awarded 17 times. De Lima was in the lead of the marathon race with only a short distance to the finish when a spectator grabbed and pushed him—requiring him to regain his composure and footing while being passed by two other runners. He managed to finish just 30 seconds behind the gold medalist and without grudge or complaint accepted his third place finish.
The Rio Olympics had its share of athlete stories of sacrifice that lead to the marvels of strength, speed, balance, endurance, accuracy and synchronization. Athletes win medals; they are rewarded for winning by achieving what has been so carefully planned for and sacrificed for. Athletes are awarded the sportsmanship medal for responding to that which is unplanned for and which they often sacrifice for another.
At the Rio Olympics two women runners, one for New Zealand and one for the United States of America helped each other up from a fall during a 5,000 meter race. First, the American runner, Abbey D’ Agostino, turned help New Zealander Nikki Hamblin to her feet, not realizing that she herself was seriously injured in the fall. As the two re-entered the race D’Agostino fell again, crumpled in pain, and Hamblin then returned the favor by coming to her aid. Both finished the race.
There is a saying among competitive runners that in a race you “leave it all on the track.” In the unplanned circumstance that D’ Agostino and Hamblin found themselves in they chose to not leave each other on the track and they sacrificed for a stranger. For them, the ritual of the Olympics became a moment for spirit to emerge, not the will of the body alone but the will of the spirit. Perhaps that is what it means to be spiritual—it is the place where spirit and ritual meet.
Spirit + Ritual = Spiritual


marcel kahhak · August 25, 2016 at 10:34 pm


Forrest Spencer Darden III · November 20, 2020 at 9:00 am


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