Faith meets fitness in Olympics

Published 7:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2016

As a lifelong practicing Catholic and Christian, this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have filled me with immense pride.

It is fitting that one of Rio’s most notable landmarks is the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city.

Seventy-four percent of the citizens claim Christianity as their religion, and a little more than half of the population practices in the Catholic denomination. Religion is a part of everyday life in Rio, and it should come as no surprise that it also influences the lives of some of the top athletes in this year’s competition.

United States swimmer Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt are more than just tremendous Olympians.

They are also devoted, practicing Catholics.

While I was impressed to watch Bolt blow away the competition in the 100-meter dash Sunday, I was even more impressed by what he did afterward.

Bolt jogged to an unoccupied portion of the track, even as thousands were cheering for him, genuflected down for a moment of quick prayer and then rose with the Sign of the Cross.

Bolt’s middle name is “St. Leo,” and he was once invited by the Vatican to address a conference on religious liberty.

Faith is obviously important to Bolt, and his career is a testament to the well-known Bible verse that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Biles and Ledecky are also examples of athletes who put a special importance on their spiritual lives.

Biles has told reporters that she carries a rosary in her gym bag, and before competitions she tries to light a prayer candle for the intercession of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes.

Ledecky says the “Hail Mary” before every swim, and attended Catholic schools through high school.

“My Catholic faith is very important to me,” Ledecky told the Catholic Standard. “It always has been and it always will be.

“It is important for me to take time to make space for God and thank Him — He will always be at the center of my life.”

I think it is wonderful to see world-class athletes acknowledge their faith like this.

They are inspirations and fantastic role models to fans of all ages, especially in this often-dark world in which we live.

Justin Schuver is the publisher of The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 305.