Friday, August 3, 2012

Bolt or Blake for Olympic gold?: Speed not important in deciding who to back

'Tis the season! The one that comes by once a four years, where some chosen few whose training behaviour has been good, will see officials come bearing them gifts of gold, silver and bronze. It's that global festival called the Olympic Games. And unlike the more common ones like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and  Independence it is free of faith controversy. Not to say that we don't see images of religion on show, there were enough hymns during the Opening Ceremony to make me feel I was in St. Paul's Cathedral, but at least we secularists are not being accused of starting a 'war' on this particular historical celebration.  Thankfully there are no religious fanatics saying that we have lost the true meaning of the Olympics and need to get back to paying homage to the gods that live on top of Mount Olympus. It's a relief to be able to watch the games online or on television without having believers telling me that I have no right to be enjoying the spectacle when I have not accepted Zeus as my personal Lord and saviour.

Celebration of science, nature and human evolution

Yes, the Olympics is at least one party that the atheist can feel completely a part of. It's a chance to sit back and marvel at the super natural rather than the supernatural. Olympic sports are indeed a true demonstration of the beauty of science. The laws of gravity, angular momentum, centripetal and centrifugal forces are on show in every dive off the platform, somersault in gymnastics or hurl of the discus. Water currents are critical in the whitewater rowing, wind resistance when sprinting or doing a sport like archery. We see biology in how our physiology has evolved over time to make our bodies able to perform tasks that were once necessary to our basic survival. Being able to run fast to escape a predator,  fight to overcome a rival from another tribe, lift heavy objects to construct a place to live or throw a spear to kill an animal for food. To a large extent the games remind us what it is to be a basic human, trying to adapt and survive in our natural habitat.

Some of my friends in faith will no doubt tell me that the Olympics is also about 'spirit.' Digging deep to produce what you could never achieve with body and mind alone. Maybe, but I like to think of this 'spirit' as unlocking the potential which the body always had but the mind up until that moment didn't think was possible. It's not that there's a special non natural entity that makes the body do what the body really can't do.

If God, as many people think, is one who intervenes in nature, it is a miracle that the Olympics actually works at all. All the athletes in training or preparing for an event rely on the consistency of natural laws. They assume that if they toss a ball in the air it will take the trajectory that is predicted by Newton's Laws.They expect that there will be no trans dimensional being looking on that will throw things off a bit to favour the one that believes in him a little more strongly.  During the Olympics, athletes from every nation appear to have complete faith that God will not interfere with anything during their events. It seems that they are quite sure that whatever God they believe in will simply standby and let nature prevail.

Fans of the various events, regardless of their views on faith also appear to have no worries of spiritual interference. I have talked to a few of my Christian friends about their predictions of what will happen in London. Likely winners and losers and who will carry away the lion share of medals. Strangely enough, the belief system of the athletes never factors in. No one ever says that it depends on who prays more on the day, who has the right interpretation of theology or who has been washed in the blood.  But if God exists and cares how we worship and serve him and will punish and reward accordingly, these factors should at least matter a bit in the final analysis.

No, curiously this God factor never makes it to the discussion table. It's all about who is better prepared, who is in the best physical condition, who is stronger mentally or who is a better tactician. Of course the spirituality factor always comes in afterwards. God in his wisdom works retroactively, arriving after the fact is his trademark. So you will often hear the statement, " I prayed to God and that's definitely why I won" but almost never the statement, " I prayed to God and that's why I definitely will win."

Some Christians will hear athletes thanking God and tell me that it's foolishness.They will say flat out that God isn't interested in sports. He may like to watch but he doesn't care who wins. God has no favourite team. They will tell me that sports is actually too trivial for God to worry about anyway. Games are just something that we humans build up to be important, but they don't ultimately matter. God has bigger fish to fry, so to speak. I suppose they have a point. Perhaps he has  more critical things to do like ensuring that every human being gets at least one meal everyday, that there is no abuse of people based on gender or race, that epidemics don't ravage poor communities, or that earthquakes don't destroy cities. OK, forget that argument. On second thought, maybe Christians should stick to the idea of  a God of the games. At least the sporting God ensures that somebody comes out a winner.

The idea of a God that keeps entirely out of sports, I think would be an unfair God anyway. Why should people who dedicate their lives to be the best they can be in a discipline be singled out to be ignored? That would be almost as bad as the amputees that get snubbed everyday. It's strange also because athletes are some of the most religious people around, many with strong faith convictions. If God does not care about sports that means he has never answered a single one of their prayers to help them improve their performance . Who among people among faith would ever argue that God has never helped an athlete become a winner in the sport he or she has dedicated their entire life to? But that is the only logical conclusion we could come to if God is only a spectator when it comes to sports.

Well, I won't dwell on that anymore. The track and field starts today and I want my Caribbean friends to all focus on the competition. The showdown between Bolt and Blake, and Campbell and Frasier Price of Jamaica, Kirani James of Grenada, Bailey of Antigua,  Kim Collins the evergreen from St. Kitts Nevis,  the Trinidad male sprint relay and the depth of the Bahamas squad. Even dare I say it, Barbadian Ryan Brathwaite trying to make a comeback in the hurdles. The Caribbean has a lot to look forward to in these games and in spite of my criticisms of the region at times when it comes to the role of faith, there is no doubt that when it comes to sprinting our islands are not just on track but  proudly leading the way. I will certainly be screaming my lungs out for the region over the next week. Maybe this will be truly our time, I mean even our cricket results have been looking up recently.

Blake versus Bolt: The clash of the games

So, let the games begin! The swimming, gymnastics, rowing, diving and volleyball are all well and good, but we are now about to get out of the starting blocks for the REAL Olympics.  From a Jamaica, Caribbean and world perspective, much  has been made of the rivalry between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. This dual is certainly a mouth watering prospect. It's remarkable that just three years ago, it was inconceivable that Usain Bolt could have a rival. Back in 2009, the only dual on the track in the men's sprints was between Bolt at the clock and the clock was usually second best.

The first sign of Bolt's vulnerability was at the World Championships last year where he was dramatically eliminated from the final by a false start. That opened the door for Yohan Blake to take the gold and he has really not looked back since. He came frighteningly close to Bolt's world record in the 200 metres just weeks later. The indication that Yohan Blake "The Beast" meant business came in the Jamaica trials leading up to these games when he beat Bolt in both the 100 metres  and  200 metres.

Now the battle is really on. No longer is it a case of sitting back and wondering how many records Bolt will break in the meet. Things have changed in the last few years and many who would have backed Bolt without question just a year ago are now not as confident or have changed their minds. And why have people changed their minds so quickly? We can sum it all up in one word. EVIDENCE. Yes in watching these two over the last year there is evidence that Blake is on the up and Bolt may be on the way down and so predictions for who will win the gold have changed.

When I look back at what has happened in men's sprinting this year, I am reminded of that charge that we atheists have to face almost daily. Until now, whenever they have asked us the question, " Do you believe in a God?" The answer has been 'no'. It is 'no' today, it was 'no' ten years ago, it was 'no' 100 years ago. They see this consistency in answer and come to the conclusion that we are just 'no.' people. The answer has always been 'no' to the God question and will always be 'no' to the God question. There is no evidence we could possibly accept for the existence of a God. But that's simply not true, at least not for all atheists and I daresay not the majority.

In terms of where we are, we are about as convinced about God not existing as we were about Usain Bolt as a 100m champion a year ago.  For the years between 2008 and 2011, if you had asked anybody into track and field who would win a 100m with Bolt in the field, everyone (or close to it anyway) would have said Bolt, and they would have said it without thinking. It would have been said so naturally that it would have come across as a presupposition. As if Bolt was the only answer that could be given to the question. A person asking this question outside of the track and field fraternity could be excused for thinking we were all brainwashed 'Boltisciples', just following the herd, that none of us could think for ourselves. They could be excused for thinking that regardless of the evidence we were presented we would always go for Usain Bolt as our winner. They might have argued that we were just choosing Bolt as a winner because we liked him and wanted him to win. That was true for some, but definitely not all. I know quite a few who were not a fan of him and his antics but it was just impossible to deny that he was the fastest man in the world. The facts were just too clear. It's the same with God, many of us actually would like him to come and at least carry the baton for us a bit. However, we haven't even seen him hanging around the stadium with his track suit on.

Boltisciple apologetics

So, one year later we see that not all track fans are 'Boltisciples'. Not everyone believes in him as a track and field God. Some people at least have changed their position based on the evidence. I have no doubt that many atheists would change their position in God if the evidence came. To say that we won't change our minds even with evidence is to make the Bolt assumption, which was clearly fallacious. To test your theory, you just have to bring us a Yohan Blake, but unfortunately none has come.

Another thing important to note from this Bolt versus Blake story is that in making predictions on things its better to wait to get as much information as you can. If you make decisions early about something you deny yourself the opportunity to benefit from knowledge you may acquire later. Even now, it is a bit premature to say who will win the 100 m final. We will no doubt get more evidence after seeing the heats and semi finals. Indeed in two days time we may be predicting neither Bolt nor Blake. That's the nature of sport.

It's unfortunate that when it comes to the God question so many Christians want a decision right away. I don't know if it's because we have so many sprinters in the Caribbean, but it seems all the evangelicals want a fast decision when it comes to Christ.

" Come to Jesus now before it's too late!" is their eternal cry.

 But I think making a decision like that today is definitely jumping the gun. If you commit to Jesus now and evidence comes that he is not the one later, THEN it will be too late for you as a Christian. I don't know about you, but I prefer to wait before I decide. I don't see the need for the rush. If God provides the evidence one minute before judgement, I will make it before the bell, I  promise.
I don't think this jumping on to the bandwagon thing has only affected Christians, I think that some of the track fans have revealed themselves as true 'Boltisciples' as well. Let me make it clear, I am not saying that those who still believe Bolt will win have an irrational allegiance. There is definitely in spite of the Blake surge, still many reasons to support Bolt as champion. He's done it before and he is a bona fide star, that counts for a lot. However, I have heard from some people a fair degree of Bolt apologetics. Claims that Bolt deliberately let Blake win in the Jamaica championship out of generosity. That he wanted to give  Blake part of the spotlight or even wanted to lure him in to false sense of security. Without any evidence to support any of these conspiracy theories they are convinced they are right about Bolt and are angry that anyone could even consider the possibility of Bolt losing in London in spite of seeing what happened in Jamaica. I would have thought Bolt would have relished the opportunity to stamp his authority and send a strong message before London and put on a show for his adoring home fans. But this is a theory quickly dismissed by 'Boltisciples.'

 Some were saying after the 100m loss, that Bolt would be back for revenge in the 200m at the trials. We know what happened to that prediction, but these fanatics just moved the goalpost, determined to deny any anti Bolt evidence. That's what happens when you commit to an idea too early, whether it be Bolt as the Olympic champion or Jesus as the eternal saviour. That's way I say it's better to wait.

So, who do I have to win the big showdown right now? Well I'd have to say Yohan Blake at the moment. I am of course in no way discounting the 'Lightning Bolt', but Blake may just be a little more hungry and he seems to be on an upward trajectory. I am sure that the world at large would prefer a Bolt win, it's just hard to match him for charisma. It will of course be a great race either way, not forgetting Powell, Gay and Gatling who also could be in there. Of course many of you will probably be reading this after the result is known. If Bolt has won, I am sure that the 'Boltisciples' will be all over the place saying that they never ever had a shadow of a doubt about it. But I would be skeptical of all their  big talk after the fact, because deep down inside 'Boltisciples' just like born again Christians, always have a fear deep down of the "Mark of the Beast."


  1. Yes, indeed, this is the time I was waiting. I get your point. Blake is running well and seems to be getting better and better. However, I chose Bolt for gold. I think he will dig deep and again excite the game...It is either Bolt or Blake. Bolt it is.As for my fellow country man, Kirani James, I believe will do good. Do your best guys...

  2. All the Jamaicans looked good in heats this morning but so did the Americans. Battle truly on.. But still think Blake may have the edge on Bolt. Was also impressed with Kirani James from your spice island homeland. Hope he can bring home gold for Grenada in the 400.

  3. So it's Bolt, 9.63!! Wow! What a way to answer those of us who doubted whether he could do it again. Now, if only the Lord would turn up and answer our skepticism like that!