Inspiring Athletes

In what will likely go down in broadcasting history as the most watched Olympics of all-time, the 2012 London Games offered all of the drama, disappointment and downright awe-inspiring moments that we’ve come to expect. Here are just a few of the highlights from the 30th Olympiad:

USA tops medal count, reclaims gold tally from China

The United States once again won more medals than other nation with 104 total including 46 gold, 29 silver and 29 bronze. Team USA outpaced China who finished second with 87 total medals, 38 of which were gold. The Americans topped the medal standings in Beijing as well, but lost ground to China in 2008 when the host country won more gold than the U.S. Russia (82), Great Britain (65) and Germany (44) rounded out the top five medal winners.

Missy Franklin paces U.S. women’s supremacy in the pool

Missy Franklin (Courtesy of USA Swimming)

Missy Franklin led the U.S. women’s swimming team to a commanding medal lead. The Americans finished with 15 medals (eight gold) and were well ahead of second-place Australia’s seven total medals.

Franklin’s five medals (tied with teammate Allison Schmitt) and four golds made her the most decorated female athlete at the Games. Franklin finished with five medals in seven events including four golds (100-meter backstroke, 200-meter backstroke, 4×200-meter freestyle relay and 4×100-meter medley relay) and a bronze (4×100-meter freestyle relay).

The 17-year old phenom from Aurora, Colo., set a new world record in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:04.06 and a new American record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 58:33. She was also part of the 4×100-meter medley relay that set a world record (3:52:05).

Just prior to the U.S. Olympic Trials, Franklin talked to Inspiring Athletes about the importance of faith in her life:

“Every day over the last three years, my faith has grown,” she said. “One of my favorite times is going to our beautiful school chapel and spending time with God. This year, I attended Kairos with my Regis Jesuit sisters and it changed my life forever. I now really work on keeping my faith strong.”

Read more of that interview by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Missy Franklin

Michael Phelps breaks Olympic medal record, teams with Ryan Lochte to keep U.S. men atop the swimming world; Cullen Jones quietly adds three medals of his own

Cullen Jones (Courtesy USOC/Long Photography)

“The Duel in the Pool” provided some of the most exciting moments in London as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte each went 1-1 in head-to-head competition. Phelps ultimately won the medal race and was the most decorated athlete overall with six total medals (four gold). Phelps also ended his career with Olympics records for overall medals (22) and gold medals (18). Lochte finished close behind with five medals (two gold).

Cullen Jones was another key contributor to the men’s success in the pool. Jones built on his gold medal performance from 2008 (4×100-meter freestyle) with three medals in London. He won gold in the 4×100-meter medley and silver in both the 4×100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle. Jones’ remarkable story is featured in the recently released Zonderkidz title Speed to Glory.

Team USA finished with 16 total medals (eight gold) and easily surpassed its closest competitor Japan (six total medals) and a surprisingly disappointing effort by the Australian men who won just three medals.

David Boudia breaks men’s diving drought with surprising gold medal in the 10-meter platform, adds syncro platform bronze with teammate Nick McCrory

David Boudia (Courtesy of USA Diving)

David Boudia shocked the diving community with an Olympic gold medal performance in the 10-meter platform event. His score of 568.65 was good enough for U.S. Diving’s first Olympic gold since Greg Louganis won his second consecutive title at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Boudia barely qualified for the semifinals by finishing in 18th place during the preliminary round. He then put together a solid semifinal round leading into an inspired final six dives. His performance was a major upset over Chinese diver Qui Bo who finished with the silver. The exciting final also included a surprising bronze medal for Great Britain’s Tom Daley.

Boudia’s gold medal added to his previous bronze medal performance in the 10-meter synchro platform event with teammate Nick McCrory. Earlier this summer, Boudia talked to Inspiring Athletes about his spiritual transformation and how his faith in Christ had radically changed his outlook on diving and on life.

“In 2008, diving was my god,” he said. “It was a forced competition. I needed to do well there if I wanted to do well later in life. But for this Olympics, I’m enjoying every moment, day by day because tomorrow’s not guaranteed…God is providing this platform so He can reveal Himself.”

Read more about David Boudia by clicking the link below:

A conversation with David Boudia

Brady Ellison, USA Archery snag surprise team silver

Brady Ellison (Courtesy of USA Archery)

In one of the early surprises at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Brady Ellison and his USA Archery teammates to a silver medal performance in the Team event. The big shock came in the semifinals when the Americans knocked off gold medal favorites South Korea who just a day earlier had set two world records. Team USA game up one point short, however, in the gold medal match when Italy came up with a perfect 10 on the last shot for the 219-218 victory.

Ellison was expected to contend for another medal in the Individual Recurve event but he was upset before reaching the medal rounds. Earlier this summer Inspiring Athletes caught up with Ellison who says his faith has helped him not worry so much about the outcome of any given competition–even the Olympics:

“Philippians 4:13 says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” Ellison says. “Once I put winning in God’s hands, I stopped worrying about that. I just went to tournaments and shot with no fear, doing only the best I can do and leaving the rest up to God.”

Read more about Brady Ellison by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Brady Ellison

Gabby Douglas takes all-around gymnastics gold; Fab Five lives up to the hype

Gabby Douglas (Courtesy of USOC/Long Photography)

Headlined by Jordyn Wieber, Team USA was expected to win team gold and the highly touted “Fab Five” didn’t disappoint. But what did surprise many was Wieber’s failure to make it into the all-around competition. Instead, Gabby Douglas made history by becoming the first black athlete to win gymnastics all-around gold.

By the end of the gymnastics competition, the American women had collected five medals including Aly Raisman’s floor exercise gold and balance beam bronze and McKayla Maroney’s silver in the vault. Maroney’s disappointed smirk during her medal presentation resulted in a viral sensation including a flurry of hilarious memes titled “McKayla Is Not Impressed.”

But ultimately, it was Douglas that arguably made the biggest impact of the five young athletes and was sure to let share her faith publicly in the following moments.

“I give all the glory to God,” she told NBC after her all-around gold medal performance. “It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me.”

Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, U.S. women’s soccer rebounds to take gold

Lauren Cheney (Courtesy of USA Soccer)

Tobin Heath and Lauren Cheney were among the women’s soccer players from to capture Olympic gold in consecutive Games. After narrowly defeating Canada in double overtime (4-3), the Americans shot out to a 2-0 lead and staved off a scurried comeback attempt by Japan. It was the third consecutive Olympic gold medal for the USA squad and helped ease the pain of last year’s shootout loss against Japan in last year’s World Cup final.

Prior to the Olympics, Cheney told Inspiring Athletes that despite last year’s loss (and despite what might happen at the Olympics), she would do her best to maintain the right perspective throughout the experience.

“I’ve learned to give God the praise in the highs and the lows.” she said. “Especially at such a high level, your life is a rollercoaster. Our lives are completely full of highs and lows. I’m so grateful that my confidence in Christ is never shaken. My identity in the Lord will never be shaken. My career will come and go but being faithful to that has made my relationship with Him what it is.”

Tobin Heath (Courtesy of FC Sky Blue)

Like Cheney, Heath went into the Olympics striving for the gold medal, but also keeping in mind that the journey is just as important as the destination.

“The Olympics is a very special event because you get to represent your country along with all the other sports,” she said. “One of my favorite things about soccer is how the art and the passion of the game somehow unites people and nations and classes and races. That’s something that comes out of the game and how it’s displayed and why people enjoy watching it and supporting it. Anytime you have an event like the Olympics or the World Cup, people get to enjoy it on such a huge scale.”

Read more from Heath and Cheney in the full Inspiring Athletes interviews linked below:

A conversation with Lauren Cheney

 A conversation with Tobin Heath

Kevin Durant, USA men’s basketball keeps dream alive with gold medal victory

Kevin Durant (Courtesy USOC/Long Photography)

Team USA won two of its games by less than 10 points. Apparently, that was somewhat of a story. But the bottom line held true for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and their NBA compatriots. After going undefeated and beating Spain 107-100 in the final game, the American squad, as expected, brought home the gold medal.

And while it was certainly a team effort, Kevin Durant solidified his status as international star with an Olympic record 156 points to lead the way. In a previous Inspiring Athletes interview, the surprisingly low-key athlete talked about how his faith has impacted his approach to playing the game.

“I’ve just got to be thankful to the Lord for what the gifts He’s given me,” he said. “My gift back to Him is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can. I’ve got to continue to be that way.”

Read more from Kevin Durant by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Kevin Durant

Tamika Catchings, Team USA claim fifth straight women’s basketball gold

Tamika Catchings (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

With so much attention going to the U.S. men’s basketball team, it was almost a little too easy to overlook the dominance displayed by the American women. Team USA put any doubts to rest with an 86-50 victory over France en route to an unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal. The gold medal game completed an undefeated 11-0 run for the U.S., which also scored its 41st consecutive Olympic win.

Leading the charge was three-time gold medalist Tamika Catchings along with star players Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Candace Parker. Catchings was part of a strong contingency of Christian players on the team that also included Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Swin Cash.

Inspiring Athletes has spoken to Catchings on multiple occasions and she has always been quick to point to her faith as a source of strength and inspiration.

“Everyone plays off my faith,” she said. “Being a WNBA player gives me a great platform to be able to give my testimony and talk about my faith.”

Read more from Tamika Catchings by clicking the link below:

A conversation with Tamika Catchings

Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter among American track and field stars

Allyson Felix (Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/Courtesy of NBC)

In predictably dominant fashion, USA Track and Field overpowered the other teams with 29 overall medals (eight gold). The next closest nation was Russia who tallied 18 medals (eight gold) followed by Jamaica (12 medals, four gold) and Kenya (11 medals, two gold).

Allyson Felix paced the American effort with three gold medals—the 200-meter, the 4×100-meter relay and the 4×400-meter relay. She became the first U.S. woman to win three gold in a single Olympics since Florence-Griffith Joyner managed the feat in 1988. In the 4×100-meter relay race, Felix and her teammates set a new world record of 40.82 and broke an East German mark (41.37) that had stood since 1985.

Carmelita Jeter was another three-medal performer with a gold in the 4×100-meter relay, silver in the 100-meter race and bronze in the 200-meter race. In the men’s 110-meter hurdles event, Aries Merritt (12.92) and Jason Richardson (13.04) took gold and silver. The Americans also pulled off a slightly surprising finish in the long jump with Brittney Reese taking the gold medal and Janay DeLoach sneaking into the bronze medal position on her next to last jump.

Carmelita Jeter (Courtesy USOC/Long Photography)

Other notable performances included Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee’s one-two finish in the decathlon, Sandra Richards-Ross’ gold medals in the 400-meter race and the 4×400-meter relay and Brigetta Barrett’s silver medal in the high jump that ended a 24-year drought for the American women.

But perhaps the most inspiring moment from USA Track and Field came from Manteo Mitchell who competed in the 4×400-meter relay preliminary race. About halfway through his leg of the race, Mitchell heard a horrible popping sound from his left leg. He knew something was wrong but was determined to run the final 200 meters and pass the baton to his teammate. Later that day, an x-ray determined that Mitchell had broken his fibula. Thankfully, his sacrifice paid off as his teammates went on to win the gold medal.

“Faith, focus, finish. Faith, focus, finish,” he told reporters. “That’s the only thing I could say to myself.”

Many of the American track and field stars actively touted their faith throughout the Games. DeeDee Trotter led a Bible study in the Olympic Village that was attended by Barrett, Richards-Ross, Francena McCorory, Dawn Harper, Lauryn Williams and Jamie Nieto, among others, while Bryshon Nellum, Jesse Williams and Ryan Hall were some of the many athletes that took to Twitter as a way of letting their light shine.

Team GB makes host city proud with impressive medal output

Not since 1908 (the first time London hosted the Olympics) has Great Britain performed as well as it did in the 2012 Summer Games. Back in 1908, the Brits won 146 medals (56 gold) in a diluted field compared to current times.

Now fully entrenched in the modern era, and with much more competition from the likes of the United States, China and Russia, Great Britain managed to increase its performance from Beijing by 18. In 2008, “Team GB” collected 47 total medals (19 gold) and finished fourth overall in the medal count. In 2012, an inspired British contingency moved up to third overall with 65 total medals (29 gold).

Some of the lasting images from Great Britain’s efforts included Jessica Ennis’ gold medal performance in the heptathlon, Mo Farah’s emotional victory in the 10,000-meter run (paired with a historic win in the 5,000-meter run), Andy Murray’s dominant three-set gold medal victory against Roger Federer and Greg Rutherford’s surprising Olympic championship in the long jump.

Oscar Pistorius inspires disabled athletes with courageous performances in 400-meter race and 4×400-meter relay

Oscar Pistorius

It was one of the most controversial stories going into the 2012 Olympics. South African runner Oscar Pistorius had been disallowed to participate in the 2008 Games but was given the opportunity to compete in London. Pistorius, a double amputee since the age of 11 months, used his iconic carbon fiber limbs to run in the 400-meter race and the 4×400-meter relay. Pistorius advanced to the semifinals of his individual race before bowing out in eighth place. He also competed in the relay final for his team that placed eighth out of nine teams.

Raised in a Christian home, Pistorius has won five medals at two different Paralympic Games (including four golds) and was part of a the South African team that won silver in the 4×400-meter relay at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. In a video produced by Nike, Pistorius talked about a tattoo on his back of 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:

“I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. I execute each strike with intent. I beat my body and make it my slave…”

“The scripture talks about subjecting your body to hard work and to discipline,” he explained.

Check out these links for more interviews with this year’s Olympic athletes:

A conversation with Kendrick Farris

A conversation with Ryan Hall

A conversation with Dawn Harper

A conversation with Jonathan Horton

A conversation with Hunter Kemper

A conversation with Brittany Viola

A conversation with Jesse Williams

For more inspirational Olympics stories, check out Chad Bonham’s book Glory of the Games featuring past and present Olympians such as Tamika Catchings, Ryan Hall, Shannon Miller, Josh Davis, Hunter Kemper, Ruth Riley, Dave Johnson and Tobin Heath.

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