Tokyo Olympics - Fiji rugby team

13 More Christian Athletes Who Won Medals at the Tokyo Olympics

13 August 2021

10.1 MINS

In a previous article, we profiled 13 elite sportspeople who made it to Tokyo, finished on the podium, and were unashamed in their Christian witness.

They weren’t the only ones. Christian athletes were out in force at the Olympics this year, taking every opportunity to glorify God at their events, during interviews, and on social media. Here are 13 more stories to inspire you.

Sydney McLaughlin

Track and field star Sydney McLaughlin is only 22 years old, but she just picked up two gold medals in Tokyo. Her first was for the 400m hurdles, in which she broke her own world record for a time of 51.46 seconds. She earned her second gold with the American team in the 4x400m relay.

“What an honour it is to be able to represent not only my country, but also the kingdom of God,” Sydney began in a lengthy Instagram post last week. “What I have in Christ is far greater than what I have or don’t have in life. I pray my journey may be a clear depiction of submission and obedience to God,” she wrote.

Though she cut back on her use of social media to focus on preparing for the Tokyo Games, when Sydney does post, she isn’t shy about her faith. Last November she uploaded a video of her baptism on Instagram, briefly recounting her journey to Christ:

For twenty-one years I was running from the greatest gift I could ever receive. And by His grace, I have been saved. I no longer live, but Christ in me. My past has been made clean because of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock

America’s Tamyra Mensah-Stock became an Olympic gold medallist after winning the women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling final. She blitzed through prior rounds with several 10–0 victories to secure her rank as the world number one in her category.

Tamyra gave an upbeat interview after the match in which she honoured God for her victory. “I surprised myself! It’s by the grace of God I’m able even to move my feet,” she told a reporter while wrapped in her nation’s flag. “I just leave it in His [God’s] hands. And I pray that all the practice, the hell that my freaking coaches put me through, pays off. And every single time it does.”

Tamyra’s father was tragically killed when she was just a teenager. “He would’ve been the loudest one here,” she said on the day of the final. As for her mother, Tamyra has gifted her most of her $37,500 winnings so she can buy a food truck. “It’s her dream,” Tamyra declared. “My mum’s getting her food truck! She’s going to have a little cooking business. She can cook really, really, really well — barbecue!”

Athing Mu

Runner Athing Mu is the first American to win the women’s 800m since the 1960s. “God definitely took the battle for this one! So, thank you Lord!” she tweeted after the event. The 19-year-old ended up with two gold medals in Tokyo, also helping the women’s 4x400m relay team to victory.

A first-generation American with seven siblings, Athing’s family left South Sudan to settle in the United States before she was born. She was raised in a Christian home and has since owned that faith for herself. “As a follower of Christ, our main goal is to live in the image of Jesus,” Athing said in a recent interview.

The dual gold medallist sees her talents as a gift from God and something to be used for His glory. “I’m doing this for … nobody else besides God,” she recently told The Battalion. In a separate interview with Women’s Running last month, Athing confessed, “The only thing I can do is thank God because without Him, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I’ve done this season.”

Cat Osterman

Left-handed softball pitcher Cat Osterman came out of retirement to win her third Olympic medal with the USA women’s team this year, who took home silver after a 2–0 loss to Japan. Cat was also part of the team that won gold in Athens in 2004, and silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Sports Spectrum reports that this year’s squad was “led by a strong core of outspoken Christians,” one of whom is Cat. Speaking with the magazine before the Tokyo Games, Cat said,

When I wake up there’s something way more important than anything on my to-do list, anything that’s going to happen on the softball field, anything period. I’m here for a purpose. It’s His purpose and I’m going to fulfil it.

In a podcast interview last year, Cat shared about her journey from being a nominal Catholic to having a living relationship with Christ, something that has only happened in recent years. She now shares her faith regularly on social media, knowing the impact it has on younger players who are looking for role models who are both strong athletes and unashamed Christians.

Krysta Palmer

The first American diver to achieve a podium finish in the women’s 3m springboard since the 1980s is Krysta Palmer, who takes home a bronze medal from Tokyo. She is also the first female from the US to win a medal for individual diving since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Krysta previously competed at elite levels in gymnastics and trampoline but was forced to retire nine years ago due to injuries. It was a long journey for her to return to competition sport, and Krysta acknowledges God’s hand in all of it. “God’s gift to me is my sport and I’m so thankful He has given me the opportunity to represent His kingdom,” she wrote last week on Instagram, where her profile reads “In Jesus’ name I play”.

In a subsequent post, she described the role that faith had in her medal-winning performance. “God says that when we have faith, all that we ask Him in His name will be given to us,” Krysta wrote. “It’s safe to say that a big prayer and a bit of faith can go a long way. Truly with God, anything is possible.”

Kelsey Plum

Kelsey Plum and her American teammates have just won the inaugural gold medal for 3×3 basketball in Tokyo, beating Russia 18–15. Kelsey plays for the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA. She also holds the college (NCAA) record for most points scored in a season, having shot 1,080 points in 2017.

Faith in God sustained Kelsey through a devastating Achilles injury in 2020 that caused her to miss the entire WNBA season and that looked certain to keep her from qualifying for the Olympics. “I just want to thank a lot of people: God, my mum, my family, my friends,” she said after a post-recovery game that secured her team’s spot in Tokyo. “I think that God has a plan, you know, there’s a bigger purpose,” she added in a follow-up interview.

 

Kelsey’s Instagram profile begins with the word “Believer” and a praying hands emoji. In 2019, her testimony was featured in Sports Spectrum. Though she was raised in a Christian home, faith was never forced on her. “I kind of had to go through life and figure out what’s important,” she told the magazine, explaining that injuries and setbacks led her to reevaluate her faith. “It takes a lot of failure and mistakes and humility to be able to see that I need a relationship with God,” she said.

Now she is much more intentional about her witness as a follower of Jesus. “He’s always really been very precise about exactly where He wanted me to be,” she shared on a podcast last year. “I’m just super grateful, so I think for me, as I continue to grow into a woman and a woman of faith, I try to make sure that I’m a light.”

Janie Reed

Another medal-winning softball player in the US squad’s “strong core of outspoken Christians” is outfielder Janie Reed. Janie is a former collegiate All-American, but since 2015 she has steered her career towards Team USA, making her inclusion at Tokyo a dream come true.

 

Janie’s testimony was recently featured in SportGoMag, where she said her goal in life is to “make a difference in women’s sports and share the Gospel with the world.” She recounts the nerve-racking Olympic tryouts, and how she learned to put God first in the process:

Leading up to the Olympic tryouts, I found myself caring more about my performance than about God. I soon realised I have to consider it all loss for the sake of Christ. None of this was ever mine to begin with! Softball was gifted to me; it belongs to God.

I have to value God — the One whom I’m walking through life with — more than I care about where He is leading me. I have to go with the flow no matter where He decides to take me.

Denyi Reyes

Signed with the Boston Red Sox, Dominican baseball pitcher Denyi Reyes was selected to represent his nation at the Tokyo Olympics. The Dominican Republic made it into the bronze medal match and defeated their South Korean opponents 10–6 to secure the nation’s first-ever team Olympic medal and Denyi’s greatest sporting achievement to date.

In a recent interview, Denyi reflected on his journey to Olympic glory. “I have always been satisfied with the result that God has allowed me to have, be it good or bad,” he said. “Since my childhood, God has been my everything and always will be, before playing baseball. God promised me that I would play on big stages and now I am here.”

Denyi hosts a YouTube channel called Historia Bíblica y Mas (Bible History and More) where he has shared about his team’s successes in Japan and also his faith — covering topics like God’s glory, key figures in the Bible, and what it means to be God’s chosen people. Denyi says that Psalm 37:5 is a life verse for him. It reads, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.”

Raevyn Rogers

In Tokyo, middle-distance runner Raevyn Rogers became the fourth-fastest woman in US history to run the 800m, an effort that secured her the bronze medal. Raevyn has a racing style that sometimes leaves her family and friends on the edge of their seats. At the 2019 World Championships, for example, with only 100m to go, she advanced from seventh place to win the silver medal.

Raevyn has been a Christian since she was a child. In a feature article in June, Runners World told how the 24-year-old athlete has made her relationship with God a greater priority in the lead-up to Tokyo. “Everyone’s been praying for me, and it’s been the most overwhelming but great thing,” she told the magazine.

She regularly acknowledges God on social media. “That it all be done in HIS name,” reads her Instagram profile. Just days before her bronze medal performance, Raevyn tweeted, “I made this final for a reason. It’s all according to His plan, and I know it will be revealed.”

Tatjana Schoenmaker

The fastest woman in the world to swim the 200m breaststroke is South African Tatjana Schoenmaker. She secured the gold medal for this event in Tokyo with a record 2:18.95 swim. Tatjana also picked up the silver medal in the 100m breaststroke at this year’s games.

Printed across Tatjana’s inner swimming cap during her events were the words “Soli Deo Gloria,” which means “Glory to God alone,” along with a Jesus fish. Her Instagram profile echoes the same refrain, declaring, “All Glory to God”. Tatjana regularly posts devotional content under one of her Instagram story highlights entitled “HIS GLORY”.

In celebrating her Olympic achievements, Tatjana shared a video montage of her world record swim, the medals ceremony, and her emotional return to South Africa. She wrote,

My Tokyo 2020 experience was filled with an abundance of God’s favour and love … I am in awe of God’s goodness and love for us, His children … Our achievement[s] are temporary but God’s love and goodness is eternal.

Kyle Snyder

One of the giants of US wrestling is Kyle Snyder, who has earned the nickname ‘Captain America’. He takes home the 97kg division silver medal from Tokyo after making it to the final but conceding the match 6–3 to his Russian opponent. Kyle is the youngest American wrester to win Olympic gold, a title he earned in Rio at the age of 20.

Kyle is adamant that wins and losses do not define him. Following a disappointing loss to the same Russian wrestler at the World Championships in 2018, a sports reporter asked him, “Champions are often defined not by wins but by losses. How is this loss going to define you?” Kyle responded:

Wins or losses don’t define me. I mean, I love wrestling, it’s a big part of my life, but I’m not defined by the sport. I’m defined by my faith in Jesus. So no matter what happens to me on the mat, nothing really changes … God’s given me the wins that I’ve had, the great wins that we’ve seen. Then God’s also given me losses, and I’ll take both of them. Whatever He wants to give, I’ll learn from it.

Kyle has remained steadfast in this conviction. “As big as the sport is in my life, wrestling doesn’t define me,” he wrote for Sports Spectrum leading up to this year’s Olympics. “God alone defines me. I’m always consistent with my Scripture study and prayer, and during the pandemic I was able to continue to grow and focus on God and hear what He wanted to teach me.”

Jerry Tuwai

Rugby is Fiji’s most popular sport. Captained by Jerry Tuwai, Fiji’s national rugby sevens team only cemented the sport’s popularity further by delivering the Pacific nation its second consecutive Olympic gold, taking down New Zealand 27–12. Since the event was first introduced in Rio, Fiji are yet to lose a single game at the Olympics.

On winning the match, the Fiji team broke out into worship as they embraced on-field. They sang a traditional gospel hymn, titled “E Da Sa Qaqa”. In English, the lyrics say:

We have overcome
We have overcome
By the blood of the Lamb
And the Word of the Lord
We have overcome

“We always start with our prayers and songs, and we always end with our prayers and songs,” Jerry Tuwai told The Guardian, “and that song says that our God is a loving God, and that while we always tend to go stray from what He expects from us, He still loves us, and gives us good things.” Indeed, this was just how they celebrated their Rio win in 2016 as well.

Jean van der Westhuyzen

Australia won its first-ever canoe sprint in Olympic history when Jean van der Westhuyzen and Thomas Green took out the gold medal for the men’s kayak double 1000m in Tokyo. The 22-year-olds were unsuccessful in their individual sprints, but made history for Australia when they combined their efforts to cross the finish line 0.304 seconds before their next-best opponents.

Having migrated from South Africa to pursue his sprint canoe career, Jean has now adopted Australia as his home nation. On Instagram, Jean describes himself as a “Man of God”.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the same. “Van der Westhuyzen said he was a man of faith,” the paper wrote after the gold medal race. Said Jean, “I thank the good Lord. It’s an amazing Aussie team. I am so proud to be an Australian. I am so grateful for the way everyone has welcomed me. I love this country.”

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6 Comments

  1. Brenda Rudolph 13 August 2021 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Wow again, so inspiring, thank you Kurt.

  2. Vincent 13 August 2021 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Believing into
    Jesus Christ
    through our life ,
    He will bring a lot
    of tremendous help
    to anyone of us

  3. Pita Leweniqila 14 August 2021 at 4:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for the very interesting piece! Praise God always!

  4. Seru Savou 16 August 2021 at 6:13 am - Reply

    The Fijian Womens rugby 7s team that won a bronze medal are all Christians also.

  5. Anna Soh 1 September 2021 at 12:22 am - Reply

    I had heard that there were a few medal winning athletes giving glory to God and sharing their faith but reading so many accounts of athletes sharing their faith and watching some video accounts is simply amazing. All glory to God.

  6. Beverley Ruth Paterson 9 September 2021 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much Kurt for all this research. Praise God

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