Beyond doping to the promise of spiritual strength and power

As an increasing number of high-profile athletes are linked to performance-enhancing drugs—such as track star Marion Jones, who this past winter was sentenced to jail and required to forfeit the five medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics—the issue of doping raises important questions not only for the sports world, but for society in general. People have been educated to look to drugs for everything from better concentration in school to better romantic lives. So it's not surprising that athletes are turning to drugs to enhance their performance. Many top athletes, especially those in highly paid sports, face in tense pressure to succeed—not only psychologically, but financially as well. They stand to lose a lot materially—six-figure salaries, in some cases—if they don't perform up to expectations. Often influenced by others' examples or advice, even the best-intentioned athletes sometimes succumb and use banned performance-enhancing drugs.

But the purpose and value of competition isn't really about getting a six-figure salary, although it's often presented in those terms. In my career as an international cross-country ski racer, I found athletics to be an exhilarating arena for overcoming bodily and mental limitations. The Olympic motto—"Faster, higher, stronger"—points to this goal of consistent striving. Note that it's not fastest, highest, strongest—i.e., who is better than anyone else. Rather, it's a standard that encourages each athlete to continually push the envelope of what seems possible, and break down the barriers of fear, pain, and finite being.

The best example of doing this comes from a man who isn't exactly known for heaving javelins skyward or wowing spectators with his butterfly stroke. But Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who overcame the limitations of matter, for he triumphed over the greatest one of all—death.

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August 4, 2008

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