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5 Christian athletes to look for at the Olympics

Tensions with North Korea have subsided just as the opening ceremonies took place this week. After months of saber rattling North Korea ended up fielding 22 athletes who will compete with South Korean Olympians. Nearly 3,000 athletes from around the world are competing in PyeongChang, South Korea –thirty years after the Summer Olympics were hosted by the country’s capitol Seoul.

Adding to the excitement this year are four new events: big air snowboard, curling mixed doubles, alpine skiing national team event, mass-start speed skating.

But for Christians, the big story may be fellow believers who are competing and sharing their faith in the process. The Gospel Coalition reports that there are five athletes that deserve special notice at the Winter Olympics this month.

One thing they each have in common is they hope their abilities will glorify God. The Gospel Coalition has organized these brief bios of each and what days to catch them in action.

 

David Wise (Freestyle Skiing Halfpipe)

Four years ago in Sochi, David Wise became the first Olympic gold medalist in men’s halfpipe skiing. His winning run earned a remarkable score of 92.00 and instantly cemented the Reno native as a legend in the young sport. In PyeongChang, Wise—a 27-year-old husband and father of two—will attempt to defend his halfpipe gold in the event’s second Olympics appearance.

Wise has said his Christian faith is both grounding and pressure-relieving—in a sport that is not often grounded (literally flying through the air) and full of pressure to posture and perform.

“Faith plays a huge role because it enables me to be confident,” Wise said in 2014. “I don’t have to worry about what’s happening or the outside influences as much because I feel like I can trust God, and he’s going to see me through. I can look back on my path and realize that God had a pretty significant part in taking care of me. It takes the pressure off and I can enjoy it.”

Watch David Wise compete in freeski halfpipe on February 19 (qualifying) and February 21 (final).

 

Kelly Clark (Snowboarding Halfpipe)

Few people ever get to compete in one Winter Olympics. For Kelly Clark, PyeongChang will be her fifth. Sixteen years ago, Clark was only 18 as she won gold in the halfpipe at the Salt Lake City games. She’s since picked up two more medals—halfpipe bronze in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. Now 34, Clark will become the first U.S. snowboarder to compete in five Olympics, joining up-and-coming stars Chloe Kim and Maddie Mastro—at 17, literally half Clark’s age—in going for halfpipe gold.

After she achieved fame and success in the 2002 Olympics, Clark found her life lacking meaning and fulfillment. At 20, she overheard a conversation in which four words caught her attention: “God still loves you.” Clark couldn’t shake these words, which set her on a path to accept Jesus Christ, changing the course of her life and giving her a new identity.

“I started to understand that I didn’t get my worth from people or from the things that I did,” Clark said. “It was from Christ. If I hadn’t had that shift in my life, I think my world would have come crumbling down.”

Watch Kelly Clark compete in snowboarding halfpipe on February 11 (qualifying) and February 12 (final).

 

Elana Meyers Taylor (Bobsled)

Elana Meyers Taylor met her now-husband, Nic Taylor, in 2011 as part of a Bible study near the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. A few years later the two were engaged and then baptized at Saranac Lake Baptist Church. Now, the couple is headed to PyeongChang together, both members of the U.S. bobsled team. Nic is an alternate on the men’s team, but Elana is the leader of the women’s team, hoping to win a medal for the third straight Winter Olympics.

After achieving a bronze in Vancouver 2010 and then a silver at Sochi 2014, Elana went on to win gold at two of the last three world championships. Will she win her first Olympic gold this year, after missing gold by one-tenth of a second in Sochi? The 33-year-old has a good shot, but whatever happens, her faith in Christ frees her from crushing pressure.

“We’re talking about the Olympics. We’re talking about trying to win the gold medal. All of these things can be overwhelming,” Taylor said in a 2016 interview. “But regardless of whether I win a gold medal or never compete again, I just have to trust that God has a plan for my life and I’m called to be his representative through the sport and outside of the sport.”

Watch Elana Meyers Taylor compete in women’s bobsled on February 20 and 21.

Katie Uhlaenderq (Skeleton)

“It is all about letting go and finding speed by generating momentum with your body.”

That’s how Katie Uhlaender described the (insane) sport of skeleton, where athletes lie face down on a sled and race down an icy track at speeds reaching 80 miles per hour.

But it could also describe Uhlaender’s approach to life in the face of adversity. The 33-year-old is headed to the Olympics for the fourth time, but she has yet to win a medal. In Sochi she came painfully close, missing bronze by only four-hundredths of a second to Elena Nikitina of Russia. Then, when it appeared likely Nikitina’s medal would be stripped because of doping, the bronze seemed within Uhlaender’s grasp. But that too slipped away when an international arbitration court, on February 1, controversially overturned the ban on 28 Russian athletes accused of doping.

Still, Uhlaender, who lost her famous father—former MLB outfielder Ted Uhlaender—to a heart attack in 2009, has tenacity and perseverance, in large part because of her faith.

“Quitting is never an option, so why would I quit on God?” she said. “He guides me and gives me the strength to keep going.”

Watch Katie Uhlaender compete in women’s skeleton on February 16 and 17.

Gigi Marvin (Hockey)

Since debuting as an Olympic sport in 1998, women’s hockey has been dominated by two nations: Canada and the United States. The U.S. team won gold in the event’s inaugural Olympics, but Canada has topped the podium ever since.

Gigi Marvin was part of the U.S. team in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, winning silver both times. She’ll be on the team for her third Olympics in PyeongChang, striving for her first Olympic gold. But for 30-year-old Marvin, winning on the ice is not the whole mission.

“My mission is more than winning another medal or championship,” she told FCA Magazine. “It’s about sharing Christ and leading others to him.”

In spite of her two Olympic silvers, five world championship golds, and many other accolades (including as a star player for the University of Minnesota), Marvin doesn’t let her hockey success define her.

“I know my worth is not found in what I can achieve in this game,” she said. “Instead, my identity and value is only found in Christ, my Redeemer and Lord.”

Watch Gigi Marvin and the U.S. women’s hockey team beginning February 11.