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DEFEAT: Schleper (15) reacts after the women’s gold medal ice hockey game.
Associated Press/Photo by Petr David Josek
DEFEAT: Schleper (15) reacts after the women’s gold medal ice hockey game.

Competing with a smile

Sports | Two months later, Team USA women say Jesus is better by far than gold or silver

Issue: "Believing in Iraq," May 17, 2014

Defenders Anne Schleper and Gigi Marvin are the Bible study leaders for the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team. Before February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they shared their faith manifestos with the ministry Athletes in Action.

Schleper writes “A01” on her stick for games, she said, because she’s playing for an “Audience of One.” Her sport isn’t first in her life. Rather, she seeks to glorify God through it. Marvin is as much on Team Jesus Christ as she is Team USA, she said. She can’t but enjoy to compete and “have a huge smile” because of what God has done for her. “If we win a gold medal, it’s going to fade,” Marvin said at the time. “It’s nothing compared to Jesus Christ and his prize.”

Their faith vignettes sounded deep and genuine. But athletes commonly state their faith from the mountaintop or, as with Marvin and Schleper, before starting the Olympic climb. The smiles turned to blank stares after Team USA lost the gold medal game against Canada—a game it led 2-0 with 3½ minutes remaining. While the Olympic official was putting the silver medals around their necks, where were those priorities—really?

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“Oh, Jesus is by far better! There’s no question there,” Schleper told me. “Hands down, Jesus Christ,” Marvin said. Having losses, failures, and sorrows are part of life, they said. She didn’t have a smile on her face when Team USA lost, “and that’s a period of grief,” Marvin said. “Does that mean that your faith is shattered? No. … It simply means that you feel the emotions that Christ has blessed us with.”

Several believers on the team support each other with the acronym SIC for “Strength in Christ.” And being on a team, Marvin told me, proves Ecclesiastes 4:10—“Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” Processing the defeat two months later means growing to appreciate the entire journey Team USA had together, both in the Olympics and their greater spiritual lives. “So afterward, can I say, you know: ‘Jesus, you satisfy more than a gold medal could ever satisfy—or a silver medal could ever satisfy?’” Schleper said. 

The first and the last?

Sage Kotsenburg
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Sage Kotsenburg

Former U.S. homeschooler Sage Kotsenburg became the first gold medal winner in slopestyle snowboarding in February’s Winter Olympics. But one doctor says Kotsenburg should be the last. Lars Engebretsen, the International Olympic Committee official who monitors injuries, told the Associated Press the event’s still-unnamed injury rate is “too high” for an Olympic sport. Sochi was the debut for the X-games-like event in which competitors do tricks on mountainside obstacles. The IOC has stressed Engebretsen’s views are personal.  —A.B.

Andrew Branch
Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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