What makes a champion? With the London 2012 Olympic Games well underway and medal tallies rising, old and new names are being written into the record books. Newspaper column inches are filled with the stories of the men and women who are writing their own history in gold, silver and bronze. Reflecting on these games, world championships and world cups, I have concluded that there is ultimately only one thing that makes champions. Competition.
It may seem like a statement of the obvious. But no matter how hard or sophisticated a training regime or how mentally tough an individual is, without the challenge of competing, they are simply keeping fit. When I first started training to play rugby union, we were put through our paces, challenged physically, we were drilled in technical skills and worked on set plays against our squad members. Only when we ran out onto the field of play in our first game, did we begin to understand the main requirement of competition - taking a risk with what you've committed to on the training ground. I can remember the score to this day, we won 70-0. We won the next game. Then the next. We encountered stronger opposition and continued to win. Champions emerge from the competitive arena.
On the advice of a primary school teacher, who thought my eldest son had a nice running style, from observing him in PE lessons (physical education), we decided to enter him in a children's fun race at a local village fair. He destroyed the field, finishing with the rest trailing halfway down the grassy track. In a local takeaway food store I noticed an advertisement for a local athletics club. We joined. I qualified as a coach. My son entered the arena of indoor sports hall athletics. He broke a
record which subsequently stood for a number of years. He
progressed to track and field and became an outstanding hurdler, with high
national ranking. He was prepared to take the risk of competing, becoming a
I have two good friends who have won multiple gold medals. One in the Special Olympics, the other in the Transplant Games. Both are champions. Champions; not just from their performances in weightlifting and athletics, but because they faced the risk of competing and prevailed. Both are inspirational characters.
There are risks in competition. The risk that you will be found wanting. The risk that there is someone better out there. But until the challenge of competition is faced, there can be no champions. Life is filled with daily challenges and the true champions, those that rise above adversity, disadvantage, poverty, illness or any other kind of hardship are those who risk their all, risk who they are to contend against their circumstances and make a difference. But life is not only about adversity. There are other challenges in life too - building strong personal relationships, parenthood, balancing the demands of modern life whilst retaining core values - champions in life are those that step up to contend or compete for what is of value, those who retain integrity, truthfulness and can maintain self control. Lethargy and compromise are the antithesis of competing with integrity.
The bible has a really great insight into rising to the challenge of competition. Paul, the great thinker and follower of the man's man Jesus Christ put it this way..."You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself"… (The Message).
Stepping up as a contender in the greatest arenas of the world or against the challenges life throws up brings us face to face with risk. Many look on. Some approach the edge. But who will step up?