It takes years of sweat, pain and determination to qualify for the Olympics, but some of the world's top athletes heading to Beijing want the world to know there is something more important than winning gold medals – a relationship with God.
Allyson Felix, three-time U.S. Outdoor 200m champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist; Brian Clay, 2004 Olympic decathlon silver medalist; and Ryan Hall, 2008 Olympic marathon runner, are just some of the Olympians competing in the 2008 Beijing Games that are sharing the importance of their Christian faith with fans.
Through the Web Site BeyondTheUltimate.org, sponsored by the ministry Athletes in Action, these elite sportspersons share their personal stories about their ultimate goal in life.
"My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life," wrote Felix on her page in BeyondTheUltimate.org. "I was nowhere close to the perfect child. I had my share of difficult times along with some disappointing choices that I made, but thankfully God never stops loving me."
Felix, whose father is a seminary professor, said after she runs she hopes people can see Christ-like characters in her.
Her favorite verse is Philippians 4:6-7, which reads:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
"That verse always [encourages] my heart when I am dealing with any kind of pressure, and throughout the struggles of life my faith calms my heart," Felix said.
She added that a person needs to have passion and a reason for doing things.
"[T]here really has to be a purpose there I think that's what drives success," Felix shared. "I know my talent is from God. And that's my purpose: to run to glorify Him."
Likewise, Olympic marathon runner Ryan Hall reflected on the peace he found in Christ that is independent of his running performance. Hall's Olympic dream began in eighth grade when he set out on a 15-mile run around town. From that point on, he said his sense of worth and joy was "totally dependent" on how he ran.
"The result was frustration, worry, depression and discontentment with life," Hall recalled. "However, when I'm following Christ closely, there's a contentment and satisfaction in my life that is far greater and longer-enduring than any good race I've ever run."
Fellow Olympian Brian Clay also says his faith helps him understand that "winning isn't everything."
As these U.S. Christian athletes prepare to compete in the Beijing Games, Aug. 8-24, the watchdog group Open Doors is calling on churches and Christians back home to host prayer events during the Games for the persecuted Christians in the country.
"Unfortunately, there has been a crackdown on house church leaders in wake of the start of the Olympics," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "Please join me in praying for all those in prison. It's a travesty that hundreds of Christians sit in prisons while the Chinese government pats itself on the back for its hosting of the Games."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently reported that nearly 700 Protestant leaders from unregistered churches have been placed into custody in the past year.
BeyondtheUltimate.org was originally developed in partnership with Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, as a platform for Super Bowl coaches Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and their players to share the important role that faith in Jesus Christ has played in their lives.
The Web site has since expanded to reach sports fans beyond football.