Third Space Olympics

On the first fine day for what seemed ages we gathered in the bandstand.  Still mourning and missing our friend Tony we shared time together mindful of his family, Fran, and his daughters Charlotte and Catherine with it being Fathers Day.


1 Corinthians 9:24–27  “24 Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize.25 (E)Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever.26 That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches.27 I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest.”

Why would Paul say this? He is making the point that winning a prize requires discipline, self-control, and coordinated activity. Games like the Olympics were held all over the Roman Empire, and perhaps it is during one of these games that Paul is preaching in Corinth. Perhaps it was even the Olympics – the Olympics had three main thrusts, 1. It was a religious festival, 2. It was used by the city states whose competitor was a winner as a sign that their state was blessed by the Gods so they should have power, 3. To show military prowess.

Some facts about the ancient Olympics

  • Corinth to Ancient Olympia 115 m about 3 hours by car – Google maps does not do timing on foot, but Corinth was also the city that hosted the Isthmian Games
  • The first recorded Olympics was held in Olympia in 776 BC and continued until 394 AD
  • They were held to honour the god Zeus
  • Like today it was always held every 4 years (but then always in Olympia)
  • In the ancient Olympics there were 10 sports, Chariot races, horse races, boxing, the pentathlon (which consisted of discus, javelin, long jump, running and wrestling), three different running events over varying distances including a long run rather like the marathon
  • Athletes competed bare foot and naked apart from the last race where competitors had to race in full armour (a real show of stamina and strength in battle)
  • Only the winner was honoured and they received a laurel wreath and an olive branch, but winning held enormous prestige.
  • Any free young men who spoke Greek could compete, (there were some other games in which women could compete)
  • Competitors had to swear before the statue of Zeus that they had been in training for 10 months
  • High ideals had to be adhered to by the athletes, commitment, striving for excellence, fairness and respect
  • 100 days of peace surrounded the games so competitors could arrive for the events safely
  • The games were certainly still going on during Paul’s journeys to preach the gospel to the gentiles, but by the time of Nero corruption had raised it’s ugly head. Apparently Nero entered the games in some of the events and he won each event he entered. It was recorded that there was an event in that time for singing which Nero won even though it was well known that he had a terrible voice
  • Some sources claim the ancient Olympic flame symbolised the death and rebirth of Greek heroes

Some points to consider for ourselves

The ancient winners of the events brought great honour on their home cities – Paul is saying we can bring great honour to God by sticking at the task we have set ourselves on our faith journey.

The laurel wreath is something that will wither and fade, our prize will last for eternity.

Bearing in mind what happened to the Olympics in Nero’s day – we have our ideals, our values in Third Space – we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of them.

The ancient Olympics were marked by a sacred truce of 100 days. This was so competitors could reach Olympia safely when travelling through warring city states in the Greek peninsula.

To check our knowledge and to win a gold medal (Fairtrade chocolate of course) we took part in an Olympic Quiz. This brought out the competitive spirit in some of us.  Steve won hands down!!

We heard about the famous Christian athlete Eric Liddell – what an inspiring man

Eric Liddell (1902-1945)

  • Born in China in 1902, his parents were missionaries.
  • At boarding school in Britain he excelled at athletics, rugby union and cricket.
  • While at Edinburgh University he broke the British records for the 100yds and 220yds, played     7 times for Scotland at rugby in the Five Nations, and in 1924 graduated with a science degree.
  • At the 1924 Paris Olympics won the gold medal in the 400 metres, and in doing so broke the Olympic and world records. (Waiting at the starting blocks he was handed a piece of paper by the American team physio with 1 Sam 2:30 written on it: “Those who honour me I will honour.”)
  • In 1925 went to China as a missionary with the China Inland Mission.
  • While on furlough in Scotland in 1932 Liddell was ordained a minister of religion.
  • During 1934 married Florence MacKenzie, a Canadian missionary, they had three daughters.
  • Due to the Japanese occupation of China, Florence and the children leave for Canada, Liddell stays on in China and takes a position a rural mission station serving the poor.
  • Liddell suffered many hardships at the mission as he tried to help the local people despite the war and occupation.
  • Showed great courage as he stood up on behalf of local peasants against warlords, bandits and the Japanese occupiers.
  • Was interned in a camp by the Japanese in 1943.
  • In the camp he taught Bible classes, science to children, cared for the sick and elderly, and arranged games and sporting activities.
  • While other missionaries moralised and acted selfishly he helped others, and encouraged people to share.
  • Died from a brain tumour on 21 Feb. 1945, aged 43, just 5 months before the camp was liberated. 
  • 1991 a memorial stone, made from Mull granite, was erected on the site of the camp.
  • Near the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities reveal that Liddell refused to leave the camp as part of a prisoner exchange, instead he gave his place to a pregnant woman.
  • Norman Cliff, an internee who survived the camp wrote: “the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet”. Langdon Gilkey, another survivor wrote: “He was overflowing with good humour and love for life. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a Saint.”
Here was an example of a man who ran a true race in all things



When considering the 100 days of peace 50 days either side of the Olympics. The 100 days started 10 days ago on Thursday 7th June

We pray for peace in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our country and internationally. Pray for areas of our world where there is war and violence that peace makers will achieve successful settlements.

Pray for the Olympic event

Everlasting Father, giver of joy and the source of abundant life; we pray for all who are involved in the London Olympic Games, for their safe-keeping and well-being; and as we celebrate the skill and resolve of those who compete we pray that throughout the games there would be harmony, a striving for excellence, a spirit of humility and fair play, and a respect for others by all who are involved.

We prayed for those we knew by writing names on flame shaped pieces of paper and then stuck them on the edge of a piece of paper, this was then rolled up to represent a torch.


Torch prayer

Radiant King of Light, you lit the torch of my faith. Your Spirit fired it up, may it blaze with the heat of your love, and the light of your truth. Help me to ever hold it up allowing your light to guide, and to draw others out of darkness to shine for your glory. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen


After sharing bread and wine we closed by saying;


God has called us to persevere in the race of life. Therefore:

With God’s help we will fight the good fight, we will finish the race, we will keep the faith.

Lord God give us the strength to run with perseverance the race marked out before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Amen