More than 30 years have passed since the words attributed to Scottish runner Eric Liddell were made famous in the film Chariots of Fire.
The film tells the story of a Christian who managed to win Olympic gold in an unfamiliar event, having refused to run his favoured 100m as it fell on a Sunday.
2012 brings us a new batch of athletes all looking to win gold while proclaiming God. So what are their chances?
Name: Phillips Idowu // Sport: Triple Jump
'I believe my success is down to my faith in God'
Phillips Idowu is one of the most recognisable members of Team GB, but his glittering CV lacks one thing – Olympic gold.
He’s competed in the triple jump in the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games, but the most he’s managed to achieve is a silver. Could he be saving it for his home city games in London?
Despite missing out at the Olympics, he’s managed to take gold at the European Championships, Commonwealth Games, World Championships, and last year won the Diamond League Race – making him the most consistent performer of 2011. Idowu is 33, and while most jumpers peak earlier in their career, the man he replaced as Team GB number one – Jonathan Edwards – was 34 when he won at the Athens Games in 2000.
Idowu has been described as an ‘enigma’, always competing with different colour hair and numerous piercings. He doesn’t have the best relationship with the Team GB boss Charles Van Commenee after being publicly criticised for missing the 2011 National trials and posting an apology on Twitter. The controversy is yet to affect his performances and it’s hoped it won’t get in the way of 2012 success.
Idowu was brought up in a Christian family, but after drifting away re-found faith in 2008. Speaking after the Beijing Olympics, he said: ‘I believe my success is down to my faith in God and I wouldn’t have achieved half the things I have if it wasn’t for his help.
‘I pick up my Bible every day, I read my Psalms – it’s helped me keep level-headed and grounded. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for God’s glory. If he didn’t bless me with this talent and ability, I wouldn’t be here.’ 2012 could end up being Idowu’s final year competing – his decision may be made easier with an Olympic gold.
His season’s started well. At his first meet he jumped over 17m six times in a stormy Shanghai, beating his two closest rivals comfortably. His form’s looking good, and after seeing his red and purple hair, could it turn gold this August?
When to watch: 9th August (Triple Jump Final)
Name: Christine Ohuruogu // Sport: 400m
'I think sport is a great way to develop a belief system'
In 2008, Christine Ohuruogu became queen of Team GB. The 400m runner had already scooped World Championship glory a year earlier and, despite the pressure of her US rival Sanya Richards-Ross, she took gold in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium. She was one of 19 winners for Great Britain, and won many hearts with her humble personality and fighting spirit.
Four years on, Ohuruogu is back and raring to compete in her home city. She’s struggled since the last Olympics with a number of injuries, and hasn’t managed to run to the best of her abilities. Last year in the World Championships in Daegu she was disqualified in her heats while trying to get a good start. She later described that ordeal on Twitter as ‘gut-wrenching’ and apologised for letting people down.
However, 2012 has started well for Ohuruogu. In March at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, she was part of the 4x400 relay team which shocked many by winning gold, beating favourites USA on the finish line.
Ohuruogu puts her success down to hard work and having a Christian faith which makes her a ‘better person’. Last year she helped launch a prayer written by the Church of England for those taking part in the games. At the launch she said: ‘Faith has always been important for my sport, but also helping me as a person so I can perform at my sport better.’
And while many of us juggle our careers with our faith, Ohuruogu says hers go hand in hand: ‘Sport is very good at mirroring our personal lives – being determined and finding strength when you don’t think you can find it. I think sport is a great way to develop a belief system; there are lots of analogies in the Bible about sport.’
She puts her Beijing gold medal down to one of those analogies: ‘I didn’t have a good warm-up – maybe the pressure was too much. I hadn’t had much sleep. But I got a text saying “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” so I dug deep and got there.’ Her rivals are aware she normally manages to peak at the right times. Let’s hope this year will be no exception.
When to watch: 5th August (400m Final), 11th August (4x400m Relay Final).
Name: Richard Chambers // Sport: Rowing
'Pray for us to honour God through the sport we do'
Northern Ireland’s Richard Chambers first got into a rowing boat at the age of 14. Twelve years later he’s going for gold in the London Olympics. Chambers concedes he was never any good at the typical school sports such as rugby, cricket or football, but was hooked as soon as he tried rowing.
Addicted to the sport, he got better and better over the years, and found himself in the GB rowing squad. He has competed all over the world, competing in the Men’s Lightweight Four, where he’s won two World Championships.
However, in Beijing his boat struggled, finishing fifth in the final. Since then he’s had injury problems which he has now overcome. Since last year he has been competing in the same boat as his younger brother, Peter.
His faith is important to him and something he tries to bring out through his sport: ‘I’m a Christian in the rowing team and that’s how I want to be recognised. Being a Christian in Team GB has its difficulties, but knowing God is always there supporting and helping me is great.’
Chambers helps out at his local church, but overseas training means he misses out for long periods of time. While training, he regularly meets with other Christians on the team.
He says he tries (but admits he often forgets) to pray before races, but stops short of asking for victory. Instead he asks for God’s help in performing to the best of his ability. As the 2012 games approach, he wants Christians to pray for him and other believers on Team GB.
‘Pray for us as Christians to honour God through the sport we do, but also that we’d use it as an opportunity to show the world that there’s something more to life than the games.’
Chambers won silver at a World Cup regatta in Belgrade at the start of the season. It leaves him and his team with a little bit of work to do if they want to make one more step up the podium.
When to watch: 2nd August (Men’s Lightweight Four Final)
Name: Debbie Flood // Sport: Rowing
‘Ultimately, I’m defined as a child of God’
Debbie Flood was born competitive. It’s something that has got her a place on the Team GB rowing squad. But her sporting career could have taken a different route. While at school she got onto the British Judo team after excelling in a number of sports.
She stumbled upon rowing after training on a rowing machine while preparing for a Judo competition. After making the transition – which included numerous falls into the water while picking up the sport – she can now look back at a career which has taken her all over the world, winning a number of medals in all sorts of competitions.
She’s an Olympic veteran after winning silver in the Quadruple Sculls in both the Athens and Beijing Games, but is hoping to go one better in London: ‘Two silvers – they [were] fantastic races but you always want gold. It’s important to aim high and train for the gold medal.’
Debbie puts everything into her sport, training three times a day, seven days a week, for 49 weeks of the year. But she’s keen to point out it’s not her number one priority in life: ‘Being a Christian gives you a bigger perspective on life. Sport can take over your life, but for me, my faith comes first.’
Flood spends time away from sport helping local charities as well as her church: ‘It’s important to know you have a purpose. At the moment rowing may define how people see me, but ultimately I’m defined as a child of God, and when I finish I’ve got something to go on to.’
Rowing is one of the most competitive of all the Olympic sports. Team GB has built a reputation of winning gold after the constant success of people such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Maybe this year Flood will add her name to that esteemed list.
When to watch: 1st August (Women’s Quadruple Sculls Final)