Features

Let the games begin

"Let the games begin" Continued...

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

Trouble is, none of the Sudanese militia men or Chinese government officials are planning to suit up come game day.

Marathon man

Behind some olympic stories of endurance, inspiration, and grit there are stories of strong faith in Christ. Stories like that of Ryan Hall, who at age 25 is already the fastest American-born marathoner ever and the best hope for U.S. gold in the men's race since Frank Shorter won the event in 1972.

Hall's tale begins on the lonely highways of Big Bear Lake, Calif., a mountain town 100 miles east of Los Angeles. It was there at 7,000 feet that the two-time high-school state cross-country champion logged the thousands of miles necessary to become a world-class distance runner.

Connoisseurs of the sport took notice on Oct. 8, 2006, when Hall broke the American 20 kilometer record by 48 seconds. And the racing world double-took three months later when he became the first American ever to crack one hour in a half marathon.

By April 2007, the soft-spoken athlete had generated considerable buzz heading into the prestigious Flora London Marathon, his first try at the 26.2-mile distance. His time of 2:08:24, a mark faster than any Olympic gold medal run in history, launched Hall to stardom and sparked whispers of American resurgence in an event long dominated by Africans and Europeans.

Such success brought more attention and a platform to speak. Hall was ready: "It isn't the records, championships, or medals that make life fulfilling. It's the life of following Christ."

That vision, one birthed from the painful lessons of disappointment at having missed the U.S. Olympic trials due to injury in 2004, pressed Hall to train and compete differently. In the run-up to last November's trials in New York City, the reborn athlete posted a video online of a recent training run with voiceovers of his testimony. He spoke honestly of his struggle to keep running in perspective as a means of worship, not the object of it.

"Now as I prepare for my first Olympic trials, I feel God calling me to run free, to run free from having to make the team, free from the worries of needing to prove myself, free from the riches of this world, free to run with a heart full of passion and praise for God, free to pour myself out for Him, not for me."

That freedom proved evident Nov. 3 over the final miles of the Central Park course as Hall pumped his fists and pointed to the sky en route to a winning time of 2:09:02, a U.S. trials record. Five months later in April of this year, he returned to London and scorched the pavement with a personal best of 2:06:17, less than two minutes off the world record. On Aug. 24, Hall will compete in the final event of the Olympic Games, chasing a gold medal in just the fourth marathon of his young career.

Beijing Games schedule (all times Eastern)

By The Editors

August 8

Worth a look Opening ceremonies: Will any athletes make protest statements, a potentially disqualifying offense? (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC) August 9

Don't miss Swimming: American Michael Phelps begins his quest for a record eight gold medals with the 400 meter IM final. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 10

Don't miss Swimming: The men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay is among the most exciting events at the Games. (7 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 11

Worth a look Equestrian: New Zealander Mark Todd, 52, returns after eight years in retirement to compete in the humidity of Hong Kong. (6-8 p.m., Oxygen)

August 12

Don't miss Gymnastics: The U.S. women's team is a heavy favorite to win gold. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 13

Don't miss Gymnastics: With defending gold medal winner Paul Hamm out due to injury, the U.S. team will have its hands full trying to upset China's Yang Wei. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 14

Don't miss Gymnastics: Shawn Johnson, 16, looks to become the next American darling to grab gold in the women's all-around. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 15

Don't miss Track and Field: American Tyson Gay meets Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell in a 100-meter race for the ages. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 16

Don't miss Swimming: Phelps takes his last shot at gold in the 4x100 m medley relay. (7:30 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

Worth a look Swimming: American Dara Torres, 41, swims for a medal in her fifth Olympic Games. (7:30 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 17

Worth a look Rowing: American Anna Mickelson and company look to improve on their silver medal in Athens. (7 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 18

Worth a look Table Tennis: The Chinese team is out to prove its dominance to the home crowd. (2 a.m.-noon, USA)

August 19

Don't miss Diving: American Troy Dumais goes for gold in his third Olympic Games against a powerful team of Chinese divers. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 20

Don't miss Beach Volleyball: Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh seek to defend their Athens gold and perhaps exit the sport on top. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

Worth a look Track and Field: Gay goes for gold in the 200 meters. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 21

Don't miss Track and Field: American Allyson Felix looks to improve on her silver medal finish in Athens in the 200 meters. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

Worth a look Track and Field: American Jeremy Wariner looks to defend his gold from Athens in the 400 meters. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 22

Worth a look Track and Field: American Brian Clay competes for the title of best athlete on earth in the men's decathlon. (8 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

August 23

Don't miss Marathon: American Ryan Hall chases a medal in just the fourth marathon of his young career. (7:30 p.m.-midnight, NBC)

Worth a look Basketball: Team USA looks to avoid embarrassment and capture gold with a roster of NBA stars, including Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade. (12:30-5 a.m., NBC)

August 24

Worth a look Closing ceremony: One last chance for protest. (7-11 p.m., NBC)

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