Heading for glory? 10 Christian athletes to look out for at the Rio Olympics

The Olympics are here! And while the run-up to the Games have been depressingly marred by controversy, the world is still hoping that Rio 2016 will deliver its fair share of historic sporting moments. Records will be broken; unlikely heroes will emerge, and still no-one will really understand Greco-Roman wrestling.

A record 10,500 athletes are set to compete across 28 sports, representing an incredible 206 different nations including first-timers South Sudan and Kosovo. Among them there are hundreds if not thousands of committed Christians, and while we don't think God takes sides in sport (unless you pray really hard), this wouldn't be Christian Today if we didn't profile a few of them. Here are some of the star names to look out for at Rio 2016 who are trying to "run the race in such a way as to win the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24)... and who are also bidding for an Olympic medal.

Gabby Douglas (USA, Gymnastics)

Gabby Douglas in the women's gymnastics US Olympic team trials in January 2016Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

A seriously great athlete and a seriously strong Christian, who told Christianity Today that she "thanks God even when she falls", Douglas became a national sensation in the US at the last Games when she became the first African-American gymnast to win the women's individual all-around event. She was just 16 during her successful, double-gold-winning appearance at London 2012, and returned to write an early-life memoir: Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith. Her book explores how she came close to giving up the sport before finding strength in her faith in God. Now she's returning for another shot at glory, and is boosted by the launch of her very own Barbie doll...

Asafa Powell (Jamaica, Athletics)


The son of two ministers and an occasional worship leader, the sprinter told the Jamaica Gleaner that he takes inspiration from Scripture before every race, explaining: "I have a verse I say each time I am going to run: 'I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.'" He also says that he "makes christianity exciting" to counter the influence of training partners who don't share his faith: "Everyone is saying Christianity is boring." he says. "I try to reflect Christianity as exciting so that they don't say it is boring."

Leone Nakarawa (Fiji, Rugby 7s)

Gentle giant: Fiji's softly spoken second-row Nakarawa

Rugby hasn't featured at the Olympics since 1924, but makes a resurgence in Rio in exciting 7-a-side form. The giant Fijian Nakarawa, who also plays in his nation's 15-a-side team, is one of the more outspoken Christians in a team who pray and study the Bible together as part of their training and preparations. "We Fijians don't have large facilities like other teams have," he told Christian Today's Harry Farley last year as he prepared for the World Cup. "But we know that being here is not from our strength but from God and its all God's plan that we are here. Even if we lose we know that there is something bigger."

Allyson Felix (USA, Athletics)

Allyson Felix competes during the women's 200m first round heats in the 2016 US Olympic track and field team trials at Hayward Field.James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

400m runner Felix is competing in her third Games, and already has four Gold medals to her name across various distances. The daughter of a preacher, she describes her running ability as a gift from God: "For me, my faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it's all about using it to the best of my ability."

Richard Chambers (Team GB, Rowing)

Richard Chambers (second from left) was part of the silver medal winning team in the men's lightweight fours finals rowing event during the London 2012 Olympic GamesReuters

Northern Irishman Chambers won silver in London 2012 as part of the men's lightweight fours, and he's aiming to go one better at Rio 2016. He says that his faith doesn't always make his life as an athlete easy, but he's resolutely committed to it anyway: "I'm a Christian in the rowing team and that's how I want to be recognised. Being a Christian in Team GB has its difficulties but knowing God is always there supporting and helping me is great."

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa, Cycling)

Moolman-Pasio has had a more difficult journey to the top than most - she broke her collar bone three times in 12 months during training for London 2012, where she finished 16th in the road race. This time she's expected to challenge seriously for a medal, but she's clear that her faith in God transcends even her commitment to the sport. "Through cycling I've realised how great God is," she told Christian Today in 2012. "I like to give glory to God in the good times. That's my goal in this sport. Professional sport is not often seen as a Christian environment, more a self-centred environment. It challenges me to show that you can be a serious athlete and not be selfish and materialistic."

Bubba Watson (USA, Golf)


The golf competition has been somewhat decimated by withdrawals due to the Zika virus, but one star who is confirmed to take part is Bubba Watson, a committed Christian and close friend of US megachurch pastor Judah Smith. Watson's own website includes a lengthy testimony, where the golfer talks about how his friendship with Smith developed after a Twitter exchange in which Watson told the pastor: "I'll teach you golf, and you teach me the Bible."

Christine Ohuruogu (Team GB, Athletics)


The British middle-distance star wasn't even expected to reach the 400m final at London 2012, but in fact was only pipped to the Gold medal by a fraction of a second. She's a born-and-raised believer, and like many of the athletes on this list, she doesn't pray to win. She told Keep The Faith magazine: "When I go to the start line, I never pray that I'm going to win. It's obvious I want to win, but I never pray to win. I just pray, 'Help me do my best, don't let me fear other people, don't let me fear the job at hand. Help me do all the right things at the right time. And if I win, that's great. If I don't, help me be a gracious loser. Even if it doesn't go too well, you still give thanks regardless."

Sunette Viljoen (South Africa, Javelin)


Four-time African champion and World Championship bronze-medallist Viljoen has so far seen Olympic success elude her, but she's hoping that will change in Rio. She describes her Christian faith as an 'anchor' which enables her to find contentment whether she wins or loses. In an interview with Passion for Sport, she explains: "You have to have an anchor. I don't know how you can't have an anchor – to pray for calmness and to pray for focus and to pray for strength on such big events. And you have to trust the Lord and you have to praise him whether it goes good or bad."

Francena McCorory (USA, Athletics)


400m specialist McCorory won gold in London as part of the US relay team, and she'll be hoping to repeat the feat in Rio AND add an individual medal to her locker. She credits God for her ability as a runner – saying "He blessed me with this talent, and I just want to use it to glorify Him" – and even believes that without God's help, she simply wouldn't be able to compete at the highest level. "I can't get out here and run on the track by myself. It's all Him," she told ASSIST news service.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.