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Silver in Sydney

National | Swimming well is important, but in God's economy, Christ's "performance" determines value

Issue: "Who'll be king of the Hill?," Oct. 7, 2000

in Sydney-
Editor's Note: In 1996, U.S. swimmer Josh Davis captured three gold medals at the Olympic games in Atlanta. Last month, Mr. Davis led the 2000 U.S. swim team to Sydney as its captain. "People focus on the competition, highlights, and medal counts, but so much more happens in the Olympic experience," said Mr. Davis, 28, a San Antonio, Texas, native and father of three. Below, writing from Sydney, Mr. Davis chronicles his latest Olympic experience: the hope of victory, the thrill of competition-and two different kinds of glory. Friday, Sept. 15: Olympic Games, Opening ceremonies
As I walk down the village sidewalk lined with the flags from some 200 countries, I think how awesome it is to be here again, the Olympic games! It seems like just yesterday when I was enjoying the Atlanta games. It's hard to believe that after 1,400 days of training and three kids born to my wife and me, I'm here again. Speaking of kids, making the U.S. Olympic team is similar to having a baby: nine months of preparation, extreme pain and pushing and then, a beautiful child. They say once you hold the baby, all the pain doesn't seem so bad. (My wife would probably disagree with my analogy because she's had three babies in three years-an Olympic feat in itself!) But it is true that all the pain and monotony of training doesn't seem so bad once you make the team. Four years of training, most of it painful and frustrating, and then the next thing you know you're enjoying all the free stuff an Olympian gets. Especially here in the village, a self-contained community where everything is free-movies, concerts, haircuts, even a free McDonald's. The free cafeteria holds 5,000 athletes. The opening ceremonies are today, but I can't go because I race in the 4x100 freestyle relay in the morning. A swimmer's pre-race ritual is to "shave down." We shave the hair off our arms and legs in order to remove the hair "that so easily entangles and (swim) with perseverance the race marked out for us." While shaving and watching the ceremonies, I'm impressed with the creativity of the flame lighting, but can't help but wonder what God thinks of all this celebration of man's achievements to the glory of sport. I'm blessed to know that my purpose in life and in swimming in these games is to race all-out, regardless of place, to God's glory. Sept. 16: Olympic Games, day 1
I swam the anchor leg of the morning prelims in the 4x100m free relay. Two of the four men on the relay would qualify to swim tonight. I hoped I could repeat and swim the final like I did four years ago in Atlanta. I swam my lifetime best time but was still three-tenths of a second shy of qualifying for the night relay in the final. I would get to cheer on my teammates from the stands while they swam for the gold. But even the prelim swimmers get awarded a gold medal if the relay swimmers in the final win. And the USA has never lost this relay in the history of the modern games. Right from the start the nighttime final was a battle between the USA and the Australians. They were neck-and-neck the whole way, but in the final meter the Aussies touched us out and won the gold. Our team was stunned, shocked and speechless. For a second we thought this didn't just happen. As quickly as I could, I led the 40 USA swimmers in a heartfelt cheer, "Way to go, USA!" because I knew that despite the bitter loss those guys swam their hearts out. They gave their best and there is never shame in that. Both relays went under the world record by an amazing one-and-a-half seconds. Many reporters were calling it the greatest swimming relay race ever. Even though I would now get only a silver medal for my morning effort, instead of gold like in Atlanta, I am also captain of the U.S. swim team. And tonight my job as captain was to do my best to remind these guys before the award ceremony that they had to be proud because they represented their country well by doing their very best. The feeling that you let your family and country down by getting the silver can be overwhelming, so I felt it important to remind them they are loved. It's tough when you come from a country where winning is everything. In our cultural economy, performance determines worth, but in God's economy, Christ's "performance" determines value. I was reminded in my devotions that my worth has already been established forever by Jesus Christ's death on the cross. No gold medal will make Jesus love me any more than He did by dying for me when I was still a sinner. And certainly a silver medal doesn't mean that God is not for me either. Tonight I can fully enjoy the thrill of winning an Olympic silver medal, because Jesus' unconditional, unwavering love for me has freed me from any lingering doubts about my own worth just because my team wasn't No. 1. I glorify God in my swimming not so much by holding up the three gold medals I won in Atlanta, but by using my swimming as a daily opportunity to say, "I surrender all." To give everything you have with no conditions on what you expect God to do with your years and years of hard work and sacrifice, now that's a true leap of faith! And nothing brings that home more clearly for me than competing as a Christian in the Olympics. Sept. 17: Olympic Games, day 2
Today brought the qualifying rounds of my best event, the 200m free. I swam well in the morning prelims, and then at night raced even better in the semifinal. Tonight while swimming with surprising ease, I broke my own American record by two-tenths of a second, and am in a perfect position for the big final tomorrow night. My prayer today and for every day is that I would swim without worry, but with simple abandonment, trusting God fully with the results. I've learned from past experiences that when I'm swimming or placing well, it's easy to trust, but when things aren't going how I'd like, it's hard to surrender. Providentially, surrender to God's Spirit and will was the theme of the chapel services I have attended while here in the village. Every night many Christian athletes meet for encouragement and fellowship. It's amazing to see how the same God works the same way in so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Not only are we a family of athletes with similar experiences, but as Christians we're a family sealed together for eternity. My discipler sent some verses to focus my devotions. One is from Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Others are from Joshua 5:13-14: "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in the hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the Lord I have come.' Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence...." I'm so thankful that God uses the pressure of athletic competition to draw me closer to Himself and teach me more about Him. For where there is great need, God can glorify Himself with an even greater deliverance and provision. I'm reminded that God is not really for me to win the gold, and beat this person, or even break that record. And God is certainly not against me. God wants me to set myself apart, giving my all, acknowledging His presence and relying on His power and His peace! Sept. 18: Olympic Games, day 3
Tonight was the final of the 200m freestyle! Fourteen years of training culminating in just 1 minute and 46 seconds. So many thoughts ran through my mind. I asked for God's grace, wisdom, and strength. Purposefully, I gave my doubts, fear, and worries to Him, and renewed my mind with God's truth. My prayer was that I would swim all-out to the best of my ability and trust Him with the results-to actually give my swim to Him as my spiritual act of worship. As the eight finalists gathered in the Ready Room we knew it would be a four-man race: Ian the Aussie favorite, Peter the flying Dutchman, Massi the fast Italian, and me. We nodded to each other communicating without words that we respected each other-and may the best man win. We also knew one of us would not get a medal. As we filed into the darkened hallway before marching onto the brightly lit pool deck, all I could see were the huge shoulders of Ian in front of me. At 6'5'', 220 lbs., unbeaten in years, world record holder, and hometown hero, he was an intimidating opponent. The two-minute wait to march out seemed more like two hours. I quickly prayed against thoughts of fear, resting in God's provision. Like so many times before, I knew He would give me what I needed when I needed it, and probably not a second too soon. Next the inescapable moment: The monotone voice echoed throughout the venue, "Please welcome the finalists in the men's 200m freestyle." As we walked out from under the awning, a wave of lights and noise from 18,000 cheering fans greeted us. The deafening crowd had been anticipating this race for days and I couldn't help but smile and embrace that amazing moment. Right before the official called us to the blocks I said one last prayer: "Lord help me to go all out for You and with You, regardless of time or place. Thank You for being with me. Let's have some fun." In just a few seconds the amazingly loud crowd came to a complete silence. "Swimmers take your mark." Thirty thousand miles of training over the last 14 years were now coming down to one moment in time. Bang! The starter's gun released me into the water to race just 200 meters. I felt great the whole way. I was 1st at the 50m mark, tied for 2nd at the 100m, 3rd at the 150. In the final 10m all of us put our heads down and reached for the wall. Being human I looked immediately to what my place was: Next to my name was a number 4 . The Dutchman had won, with the Aussie second, the Italian, and then me. I then looked at my time and saw that I had busted my own American record by a good margin, it was my lifetime best time, and would have won any of the previous Olympics! I realized that my prayer had been answered. God was with me during the race, so that I could swim my best, and was with me now! God had been glorified, and I had swam faster that I had ever swam before. I was a part of the greatest 200m freestyle race of all time. After the race I was on a natural physical high for just having raced well, and on a supernatural high because God answered my prayers. But my Olympic moment wouldn't be complete without seeing my loved ones who came to cheer me on. While making my way to the dressing room it began to hit me what had just happened. I couldn't hold back the intense emotions that rose up. I trained so hard for so long only to miss an individual medal by one-tenth of a second. Although I know it's just a piece of metal, I could not separate my emotions from the reality of having sacrificed so much. I gave it my all daily for four years and then I gave it my all one last time in the Olympic final. The mix of emotions when it was all done was overwhelming. That's the beauty of a relationship with God: We can be totally human, vulnerable, and honest. Even though my feelings didn't line up with God's truth at that moment, I could still trust Him. Soon I could see my family. When I saw my parents I burst into tears. They hugged me and we were laughing and crying all at the same time. They were so proud of me. They kept telling me over and over how proud, pleased, and surprised they were at how fast I swam, and what a great race it was. In my final embrace with my Dad I held him tighter and longer than normal and just wept. Trying to talk through the tears I whispered in his hear, "Dad, I hope I made you proud." Like always he quickly said, "Of course I'm always so proud of you." I knew it and I've always known it, but it felt so good to hear it. Whether you're 8, 18, or 28 years old like me, you need to know you're unconditionally loved! My parents provide so much freedom to excel. They do such a good job of being visible examples and reminders of God's invisible love. Greater than winning Olympic medals was hearing my Dad say, "Well done, I'm so proud of you!" How much greater will the culmination of our existence be when we hear our perfect Heavenly Father say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"

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