Olympic Stories
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Athletes In Action

Athletes in Action works with athletes and coaches to use the unique platform of sports to help people around the world with questions of faith.

Posted 8/10/12 at 10:23 PM | Athletes In Action

South African Runner Secure Thanks to Faith

By Teresa Young, AIA Communications

Ruben Ramolefi has been running all of his life. For a while, though, he was even running from the very sport that has earned him a trip to two different Olympic Games. But for the South African steeplechaser, the event is something he felt led by God to pursue.

Ramolefi holds the South African record for the 3000-meter event, set in 2009, and qualified for the 2004 and 2008 Games. He also won the national championship in steeplechase in 2011, repeating a feat he managed in 2004, 2006 and 2009. Though he qualified once to represent his country at the 2012 London Olympics, he narrowly missed the second qualification and won’t be making the return trip.

But for the grace of God, he says, he wouldn’t even be running. Instead, he’d be playing a sport that gets much more national recognition.

“It wasn’t a popular sport”

“I was never interesting in running. I knew that I could run and loved watching athletics but it wasn’t a popular sport,” he recalls. “When you grow up in South Africa, you want to play soccer.”

Ramolefi played soccer in school but also did some athletics, including the high jump, long jump and the 1500-meter race. When he went to college in 1999, he was asked to do a street mile for an Ironman competition for the school after coaches saw him win a similar race the year before with no preparation. FULL POST

Posted 8/10/12 at 5:23 PM | Athletes In Action

Faith Provides Motivation, Big-Picture Perspective for Track Athlete

By Tommy Young, AIA Communications

As a middle-school student in Farmington Hills, Mich., Bettie Wade watched the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens on television in tears.

“It was beautiful,” says Wade, now 26. “I knew that is what I wanted to do. I decided that I was going to have to train as hard as I could and be the best athlete that I could because only the best got to be at the Olympics.”

Fast forward to 2012 and Wade recently finished her second U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials. Wade finished tenth in the Heptathlon – a multi-discipline event composed of seven track and field elements – at the 2008 trials and did not qualify to represent the United States in Beijing, China. The 2012 Trials ended in a fourth-place finish that narrowly edged her out of the team.

“It was a really cool experience,” says Wade. “It made me want to stay in this sport.”

“There have been lots of ups and downs (in training) and there will always be,” Wade adds. “But God is teaching me to trust Him. He wants me to trust Him with everything in my life, including my training. He wants me to give him all my hopes and dreams and to trust Him to make those come true for me. That’s where I am now.” FULL POST

Posted 8/9/12 at 11:58 PM | Athletes In Action

Heath, U.S. Women Going for Another Olympic Gold

(Editor's note: This article was written before the U.S. team won the gold medal in London 2012 Olympics.)

By Katie Neff, AIA Communications

Photo: International Sports Images Inc.

Four years ago midfielder Tobin Heath was a new face on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. She made her team debut in January of 2008 against Finland, and played off the bench in three games during the Beijing Olympics, where her team brought home a gold medal.

Now, as Heath looks toward another opportunity to win the gold in London, she has the benefit of greater experience to guide her, including four appearances in the Women’s World Cup last year.

“My 2008 Olympic experience was nothing short of extraordinary. I felt like a kid on the ride of my life. Fast-forward to 2012, and I feel so blessed to get to experience the Olympics again,” says Heath.

The past four years have also included challenges for Heath, such as illness and an ankle injury during the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer season that prevented her from playing with the U.S. She made a comeback to the national team in 2011, playing in 15 games, including key World Cup appearances. FULL POST

Posted 8/9/12 at 11:53 PM | Athletes In Action

Rodriguez Relies on Faith, Hard Work in Pursuit of Gold

(Editor's note: This article was written before the U.S. team won the gold medal in London 2012 Olympics.)

By Katie Neff, AIA Communications

Photo: International Sports Images Inc.

“I want to win a gold medal. I don’t think anything else is on my mind right now,” says forward Amy Rodriguez of her upcoming Olympic experience. She knows the thrill of capturing Olympic gold, and is working toward a repeat of the U.S. Women’s National Team victory of 2008.

“When I look back at 2008, it’s so memorable because we won, and because we were proud to represent our country and bring home a gold medal,” she says. “I don’t know how we would look back on the Olympics last time if we hadn’t won. So for me, and I think for my team, our biggest goal is to bring home the gold again.”

The team’s victory in 2008 was also a key moment in Rodriguez’s career, as an injury on the team allowed her the unexpected opportunity to gain Olympic experience. FULL POST

Posted 8/9/12 at 4:34 PM | Athletes In Action

Christian Athlete and Partner Win Bronze Medal in Diving

(Editor's note: This article was written before David Boudia and diving partner Nicholas McCrory won the bronze medal in the London 2012 Olympics for the synchronized 10m platform.)

By Teresa Young, AIA Communication

Photo: USA Diving/John Beck Photography
Boudia prepares to compete at the 2012 Olympic Trials.

David Boudia feels like he is a different man as he returns to the Olympic diving board in London.

“This year is 100 percent different for me,” says Boudia, whose first Olympic experience was in the 2008 Beijing Games.

“The whole journey going into the Games and my perspective is different, and that’s totally because of my relationship with Christ,” explains Boudia, who competes in the 10-meter platform and 10-meter synchronized platform events. “Through the 2008 Olympics, it was all about me and my glory, trying to get money. All of it was vanity. Now I have a contentment and faith that God is sovereign, and no matter how I write my own plan He’s going to do what’s best for me.” FULL POST

Posted 8/8/12 at 11:59 PM | Athletes In Action

Heptathlete Fueled by Faith to London Olympics

By Teresa Young, AIA Communications

It was down to the wire. The last of Chantae McMillan’s seven events – and her least favorite, the 800-meter run – was next, and she was on the bubble at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. Her coach had said she needed a 2:17 or better to qualify for the team, but she heard the announcer say she needed a 2:20 as she was setting up on the starting line. The butterflies began to stir.

“Before the 800, I was so nervous,” says McMillan, a graduate of the University of Nebraska. “My coach still makes fun of me because I put my head on his shoulder twice and asked for a hug. I felt all this pressure on me.”

Photo: Image of Sport/Kirby Lee
McMillan competes in the 200-meter dash in the heptathlon competition at the US Olympic Trials in June.

McMillan recalls the race vividly: around the 200-meter mark, she notices the clock and thinks the pack is coming in too slowly. At the 400 mark, she’s falling to the back of the pack when a fellow runner, Heather Miller, calls out encouragement, simply yelling, “Come on, Chantae.” FULL POST

Posted 8/8/12 at 5:21 PM | Athletes In Action

Struggle with Faith Guides Olympic Wrestler to Higher Purpose

(Editor's note: Franklin Gomez competes Saturday, August 11th)

By Tommy Young, AIA Communications

Photo: Michigan State University Athletic Communications
Photos courtesy Michigan State University Athletic Communications: Gomez points to God after winning the NCAA championship with Michigan State in 2009.

Franklin Gomez has trained to become a very successful wrestler. Gomez won the NCAA Wrestling Championship in the 60kg (133-pound) weight class in 2009 while wrestling for Michigan State and finished third in the tournament in 2008 and 2010. Gomez became the first wrestler from Puerto Rico to finish second at the World Championships in 2011, and he will wrestle for Puerto Rico in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Along the way, Gomez has also wrestled with his faith. That struggle has changed his perspective on his sport and given him the ability to experience victory beyond the mat.

Gomez grew up going to church with his mother in Puerto Rico. He continued to attend church regularly after he moved to the United States to attend prep school, because he knew it was what he was “supposed to do.” FULL POST

Posted 8/8/12 at 3:36 PM | Athletes In Action

High Jumper Williams Familiar With Struggle to Olympic Games

(Editor's Note: Jesse Williams came in 9th in the Olympic competition)

By Teresa Young, AIA Communications

Photo by Image of Sport/Kirby Lee

It is easy to dream of becoming an Olympian, but the road to that dream is anything but simple. High jumper Jesse Williams can attest to this, having had his share of struggles along the road to the Olympic Games. And now as the Olympics are here, Williams is hoping to repeat his win from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and bring home an Olympic gold medal for the United States.The dream started early for Williams. He recalls watching the 1992 Games with his family and identifying high jumper Charles Austin as a hero. But his decision to shoot for the same stars would come a decade later.

An avid athlete from an early age, Williams says he typically could jump higher than his teammates in all the traditional sports. His parents were track and field athletes, and he began to have an interest in the high jump. At age 12, he joined a summer track club in Raleigh, N.C., called the Junior Striders, competing in several different track events over the years. But Williams stood out in the high jump, garnering awards and continuing to improve. He continued the sport in high school, winning state his sophomore year and growing in intensity. He focused on the high jump in college at North Carolina State and the University of Southern California, again finding success. While in school, Williams competed in the 2004 Olympic Trials and placed eighth. FULL POST

Posted 8/7/12 at 5:09 PM | Athletes In Action

Swimmer Leverenz Right at Home on First Olympic Squad

By Scott Mottice, AIA Campus Partnerships

Caitlin Leverenz first caught Olympic fever at age nine while watching the swimming events from Sydney with her family on TV. And when she hits the pool at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb., this week, she’ll be going up against a few of her heroes from those same Games.

The difference is that over the past 12 years, Leverenz has become friends with Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin as a member of the USA national swim team. That said, Leverenz is hoping not to repeat the outcome of the 2008 Trials that saw Beard and Coughlin edge her out of a spot on the Olympic team.

Caitlin Leverenz visits with her coach, Teri McKeever, coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Swim Team, before the trials prelims begin in Federal Way, Wash.

“The 2008 Olympic Trials were the summer going into my senior year of high school. I wasn’t favored going in, but I knew I had a chance to make the Olympic team,” she says, noting that only the top two swimmers in each event make that team. “I swam really well, and I have nothing to be ashamed of, but I got two fourth places and a third. Anyone in the swimming community will say third place is the worst place to get at the Trials.” FULL POST

Posted 8/7/12 at 4:31 PM | Athletes In Action

Christian Hurdler Kellie Wells Wins Bronze

(Editor's Note: This article was written before Kellie Wells won a bronze medal today)

By Katie Neff, AIA Communications

“Wow, it still sounds crazy to be called an Olympian,” says hurdler Kellie Wells, speaking from her hotel room as she eagerly anticipates moving into the Olympic Village on the threshold of her first Olympic games.

Photo: Image of Sport/Kirby Lee

Wells started running at the age of six, influenced by her family. Her mother, father and older sister all ran track at various points in their lives. She grew up watching Gail Devers and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, doing her best to emulate them.

Despite her long history in the sport, Wells says it wasn’t until 2008, when she began working with coach Dennis Mitchell, that she became aware of her potential as an athlete.

“I was an okay hurdler, nothing special,” she recalls. “He told me that I could be one of the best in the world, if not the best in the world. And of course I was like, ‘yeah, right. This guy just wants my money.’ But I chose to move [to Florida to train with Mitchell], and I got immediate results. He taught me so much about hurdling and sprinting and getting strong.” FULL POST

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