By Chad Bonham
Since 1924, when the Winter Olympics first took place in Chamonix, France, this international spectacle has been providing the world with examples of great courage and determination. From the slopes to ice rinks, elite athletes give us glimpses into the best of the human spirit.
Here’s a look at just a few of the most inspiring moments from past Winter Olympics:
1980 USA Men’s Hockey: The Miracle On Ice
At the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, the world was treated to one of the greatest underdog stories in modern sports history as the vaunted Soviet Union national team took on a U.S. squad that was made up of amateur and collegiate players. During the previous 20 years, the Soviet compiled a 27-1-1 record in international competition.
After a shocking come-from-behind 4-3 victory, the United States went on to defeat Finland for the gold medal, but it was the victory over the U.S.S.R., that would be dubbed “The Miracle on Ice” and 24 years later would inspire the popular film Miracle.
1988 Jamaican Bobsleigh Team: Against All Odds
It was a story made for the movies. In fact, the 1988 Jamaican Bobsleigh team would inspire the film Cool Runnings. The sports world couldn’t help be fascinated as these four tropical climate athletes defied the odds and qualified for the Winter Olympics.
Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White, and last minute replacement Nelson Stokes captured the imagination of the international community that had gathered in Calgary, Alberta. Although they suffered a violent crash during one of their four runs, the Jamaicans steadily improved throughout the competition and laid the foundation for teams their home country to compete at future Olympics.
Dan Jansen: From Tragedy to Triumph
At the 1988 Olympics, Dan Jansen was considered gold medal favorite in a long track speed skating. But on the day of his 500-meter race, Jansen learned that his 27-year old sister Jane Beres had lost her with leukemia.
Jansen struggled in his races. He fell in the 500-meter race that day and later that week again fell in the 1000-meter event.
At the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Jansen made one final attempt on the ice. In the 1000-meter race, Jansen inspired the skating community with his first gold medal performance. He dedicated that medal to his late sister and took a victory lap around the rink with his one-year old daughter, also named Jane.
Kelly Clark: Halfpipe Snowboarding
In 2002 at the Salt Lake City Games, an 18-year old Kelly Clark captured halfpipe gold and the hearts of the American fans. Four years later in Torino, a dramatic fall pushed Clark off the medal podium and into a fourth place finish.
But her newfound faith in Christ tempered any disappointment and continues to push her to excellence today. Clark, who won the bronze medal in 2010 and qualified for her record-besting fifth Olympics in 2018, refuses to allow success and failure to define her. In fact, Clark says she has found true freedom since embracing a relationship with God.
“I’ve brought that freedom into my snowboarding,” she adds. “I get to do what I love with the One that I love.”
Vonetta Flowers: Breaking the Ice
As an aspiring track star from Alabama, Vonetta Flowers fell short of her goal of competing in the Summer Olympics. So she turned to bobsledding instead.
It didn’t take long for Flowers to find success on the ice as a brakewoman. She qualified for the 2002 Games with driver Jill Bakken and made history by becoming the first black athlete to win Winter Olympic gold.
But throughout the historic experience, she relied heavily on her relationship with God to help her not only perform to her best ability, but to handle the attention that followed.
“I was living on faith not fear during the Olympics,” Flowers says. “I was able to relax, have a good time and focus on what I had to do.”
Scott Hamilton: World Class Overcomer
Scott Hamilton has spent most of his life overcoming adversity. At the age of two, the adopted Ohio native contracted a mystery disease that caused him to stop growing. At one point, Hamilton was given six months to live.
His troubles didn’t stop there. After embarking on a figure skating career, financial woes nearly stopped him from pursuing his dreams. Hamilton overcame that adversity to win gold in an inspiring performance at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
Hamilton continues to inspire the world with his courage. He beat testicular cancer in 1997 and dealt with a benign brain tumor in 2004. Through it all, Hamilton has found strength in his Christian faith.
“God is there to guide you through the tough spots,” he says. “God is there every single time.”
To read about the faith stories of Olympians such as Kelly Clark, Josh Davis, Tamika Catchings, Shannon Miller, Kevin Durant, and many more, check out the book Glory of the Games (Cross Training Publishing).
(Photos: Ineke Vogel; Henry Zbyszynski; Marc Mongenet; Mallory Benedict; Mitchell Haaseth/NBC)