For many Rio 2016 viewers, it was the emotional peak of the entire Olympics.
I am referring to what happened -- far from the finish line -- during a preliminary heat for the women’s 5,000-meter run. That was when Abbey D’Agostino of team USA collided with Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand.
Both went down. D’Agostino didn't know it, but she had a torn ACL. Nevertheless, she stopped and helped Hamblin. Together -- with the American runner clearly injured -- they finished the race. D’Agostino left the track in a wheelchair and, later, was not able to accept an offer by Olympic judges allowing both runners to run in the final because of their fine sportsmanship.
That's the story that everyone knows about, the drama that left viewers coping with tears. But why did D’Agostino stay behind to help, as the pack ran off into the distance? Catholic News Service looked for that angle, which was not hard to find:
“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
She had previously recounted how her reliance on God helped calm her anxiety before a big race. “Whatever the outcome of the race is, I’m going to accept it. ... I was so thankful and just drawn to what I felt like was a real manifestation of God’s work in my life.” She told Hanlon that previous injuries forced her “to depend on God in a way that I’ve never been open to before.”
Did anyone see that angle in mainstream coverage? Actually, one or two major newsrooms saw that religion ghost and ran with it, including Sports Illustrated online. But not many.
I was exchanging emails with a media professional the other day and mentioned that there was no way GetReligion could have done posts on all of the valid, and often crucial, religion-angle stories that received little, if any, news coverage during Rio 2016. I have never received so many contacts from readers about a subject, pointing me toward more and more URLs with other Olympics religion angles worthy of note. It was like one giant haunted house of religion-ghost stories.
My friend agreed and added that, if she had tried to cover these stories, "we would have needed a special edition just to contain all of them."
Clearly, there are journalists who have become cynical about Godtalk among athletes, especially after victories. But, as your GetReligionistas have emphasized for two weeks, how can journalists leave the religion angle out of features that are, supposedly, focusing on what makes some of these athletes tick and what has allowed them to cope with the pain and struggles in their lives? If reporters ask athletes questions about these subjects, and the answers include faith content, isn't that part of the story?
I found it interesting that, at this point, D’Agostino said she has become afraid to talk about her faith in public.
“I don’t want to feel that I’m proselytizing and shoving it in people’s faces. But at the same time it’s authentic, when I do speak of it,” she said. “That’s been a real journey for me in the past year. How do I find my own voice within the social media realm and really just own it?”
“I think people feel like I’m trying to sell it,” she added. “That’s my fear. I wouldn’t want to be sold Christianity. That’s not what it’s about. God’s truth can stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be sold, it’s true in my mind. ... But it’s hard to present your beliefs in a way that is inspiring and encouraging and gentle, and that’s how I would want to receive it. That’s how I did receive it.”
So now it's time to start -- repeat "start" -- wrapping things up. So far, at least two websites have tried to create lists of SOME of the religious stories from these games.
The Catholic site Aleteia offered a piece with this headline: "10 Olympic athletes who were not afraid to share their faith."
If you were looking for the "face" of these games, one of the nominees would have to be the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt. Here is the Aleteia blurb on Bolt.
... Bolt is less vocal and more visual in regards to the expression of his faith. He routinely makes the sign of the cross before each competition and wears proudly a miraculous medal around his neck. Additionally, the Catholic News Agency reported that the “Vatican invites Usain Bolt to address religious liberty conference.” The article mentions “As a Catholic, Bolt is known for making the Sign of the Cross before racing competitively. He also bears the middle name [St.] Leo.”
I asked folks on Twitter to help me look for images of one of Bolt's post-race rituals, when he kneels, puts his forehead to the track in prayer, and then makes the sign of the cross before standing and acknowledging the crowd. There's a glimpse of this in the NBC Olympics footage in this post.
However, there are far more images of his famous lightning bolt stance. However, by the end of the week, I had noted that there is even religious content in this victory pose. Note that his right hand, in these photos, is pointing toward the medal around his neck. The other hand points up and away from himself -- toward heaven.
The medal? It is:
... the Miraculous Medal, as promulgated by French Saint Catherine Labouré (1806-1876). By extension, as one awesome Redditor pointed out, based on Bolt’s wearing of the Miraculous Medal, the Blessed Virgin Mary is currently the most viewed woman in sprinting! This digression aside, the Miraculous Medal features an inscription invoking the prayerful intercession of the Lord’s Mother with these French words: “O, Marie, conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous” (“O, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”).
So even in his proud, "secular" pose, what is Bolt actually trying to say?
In addition to that list of 10 stories about faith and Rio 2016, the conservative Newsbusters site offered a slightly longer list under this headline: "Be Inspired by the Olympic Faith of These 15 Christian Athletes." There is some overlap between this list and the earlier Aleteia offering, but much totally new content.
Also, I didn't see much attention paid to the Islamic faith of the great distance champion Mohamed Farah of Great Britain, who knelt on the track in prayer before and after each race. People talked a lot about his wife and his family, but not his faith.
Thus, please check out this collection of IslamHashtag.com links noting the "Top 10 Muslim Athletes in Rio Olympics 2016."
Finally, for now, here is a very interesting item sent in my a reader.
I don't know how many people dug deep enough into the coverage to check out the astonishing rugby team from Fiji who just kept crushing opponents on their way to a gold metal.
A reader noted:
This, for me, is the best moment of the entire Olympics so far! And I've watched non-stop Olympics this past week. The Fiji Sevens Men's Rugby team won their country's first ever gold medal and they sang in perfect harmony about it. It was rugby's re-introduction to the Olympics, having last been featured in Paris' 1924 Games. After their 43-7 win over Great Britain, tears in many of their eyes, they huddled together and sang this in both English and Fijian:
We have overcome
We have overcome
By the blood of the Lamb
And the Word of the Lord
We have overcome.
Forget all the negativity of politics and the awful violence and sadness we see so much of today. Why are so many people always so angry? I'm over all of it. We need more people like these Fijians! After this singing came the podium and, with great honor and humility, these men did something I've never seen. Every single one bowed to both knees to receive their medals. It was too beautiful! They were all class! Rugby is a tough game played by gentle people. Their play was unmatched but this singing... what an unexpectedly awesome moment of transcendence!
Well, I saw one of their matches -- or the start of it -- but I didn't see this unusual and powerful scene.
Which brings me to an appeal. Readers! Those of you who sent so many URLs during Rio 2016, can you paste them into our comments section? What other stories took place toward the end? What reports were solid and which ones contained God-shaped holes.
Yes, I already know about the SI cover package. Hold that thought.
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from @CatholicGag