This year’s Olympic Games include many American athletes of color to root for in a range of sports. While it’s quite overwhelming to keep up with medal counts, records and your favorite athletes, the Olympics are an incredibly inspirational culmination of hard work, sacrifice, and faith. It takes just as many prayers as it does crunches to reach the greatest level in sports. We compiled a short list of American athletes who have boldly confessed their Christian faith on the way to Rio. Check out their stories below and be sure to cheer them on in the coming weeks!
Trayvon Bromell, Track & Field
Twenty-one-year-old Trayvon Bromell is a member of the men’s 100m relay team, something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago. After suffering debilitating knee and hip injuries, Bromell executed patience and diligence on the road to recovery. “I didn’t have the resources and my family didn’t either, but God got us through it and it all paid off. I put my faith in God, knowing He would get me through it,” Bromell said in a 2015 interview. A junior at Baylor University and NCAA champion, Bromell has received attention from sprinting greats Michael Johnson and Justin Gatlin. He regularly professes his faith on Twitter, including in his bio, “He must become greater; I must become less.” He’s the reigning indoor world champion in the 60m sprint, and will make his Olympic debut August 13 in the 100m and August 18 in the 4x100m relay.
Carlin Isles, Rugby Sevens
Carlin Isles, 26, is known as the fastest man in rugby. A former track and football star at Ashland University, Isles was a long shot prepping for the London Olympics when he came across rugby sevens video online. Knowing his shot at the Olympic track team was slim, he called the head of the U.S. rugby team, switched cities, and began training in a new sport—a decision that required a great leap of faith. “I knew it probably wouldn’t be easy at first … Basically, I put my faith in God and myself and it all panned out,” he told the New York Times. This is the first Olympics featuring rugby sevens (the condensed version of rugby) as a medal sport, and Isles, though only 5 feet 8 inches tall, is one of the quickest in the world. He recently told ESPN, “I pray that when I get there, I can do what God allows me to do and take it from there. I’m sure a good Olympic showing would only be beneficial.” The U.S. team competes against Argentina in Group A on August 9.
Simone Biles, Women’s Gymnastics
By now, you’ve probably heard that Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team won the gold medal during the 2016 Olympic Games which further confirms what we already knew about this woman of God. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most decorated athletes in the world. The gold medalist has taken the entire world by storm during this year’s games and even has a gravity-defying move named after her (Google “The Biles” to see what we mean.), but her story hasn’t always been this amazing. Biles was born to drug-addicted parents which resulted in she and her siblings being shuffled between her mother’s house and foster care. Thankfully, her grandparents eventually adopted Biles and her sister and raised the girls in a God-fearing home where faith and family always came first. Now, fast-forward to today, and you are sure to find a rosary that was given to Biles by her grandmother in her gym bag, and you’ll definitely find her attending church on her only day off from her grueling training schedule, Sunday. In the midst of all the media attention and extraordinary ability, the gymnast has always made faith and family her main priority.
Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs is defending his Olympic title in freestyle wrestling during the Rio Games. The three-time All-American and two-time undefeated national champion has won multiple international titles and Olympic gold, but none of it, according to Burroughs, compares to a relationship with God. “A gold medal is always going to leave you empty … There’s no other thing in life that’s more fulfilling than a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all about being content with God’s provision.” In a beautiful blog post from 2012, Burroughs writes, “I believe that Faith is the most important aspect of our sport and our lives. As a competitor, the first day that we decide to put on a pair of wrestling shoes and step into the center circle and shake hands, we need faith before any victory can ever be earned.” He will begin his title defense August 19 in the men’s freestyle 74kg division.
Claressa Shields, Boxing
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields dominated the amateur boxing world and won in her weight class at the inaugural Olympic women’s boxing tournament in London in 2012. The 21-year-old Flint, Michigan native is a historic champion with a stunning 74-1 record. She’s the first American woman to win titles at the Olympics and the Pan American games. Universal Pictures recently acquired the rights to make a movie about her life. Despite her success in the ring, Shields cites her faith as the source of her drive to give back. “[Harriet Tubman] was a very strong black woman and I think it took a whole lot of courage to actually be free and go back and free others and I feel like that’s kind of my job as a Christian,” Shields said during a 2015 Black History Month keynote speech. “I made it and it’s time to come back and save others to help them be as successful as they can be.” Catch her in action August 17 in the women’s middle 75kg class.
Allyson Felix, Track & Field
Allyson Felix is a household name in track and field, and for good reason: she’s a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, with over 30 championship medals over the length of her career, and a 4-time recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, the USATF’s version of Athlete of the Year. Rio marks her fourth Olympics, and at the age of 30, Felix hasn’t slowed down—literally. She also isn’t shy about discussing her devout Christian faith, which she says keeps her going. Felix recently told the LA Times, “Faith leads my life. That’s definitely the reason that I run. I feel like I’ve been blessed with this gift, and so that’s something that helps me to see the bigger picture.” She is also a member of Project Believe, an anti-doping program to fight the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Felix voluntarily gets tested for PEDs regularly to promote integrity in the sport. In a recent Instagram post, she quoted Eric Liddell: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Allyson will race August 13, 15, and 19 in the 400m, 200m, and 4x400m relay, respectively.