Sandwiched between the U.S. and Jamaican domination was the gold medal-winning performance by the Canadian 4 x 100 meter relay team on the track at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
When the starter’s pistol went off, Robert Esmie blasted out of the starting blocks, handing off to Glenroy Gilbert who then blazed across the back straight to extend the baton to Bruny Surin, already ahead, with his final hand-off to team anchor and 100 m world-record holder Donovan Bailey, who crossed the finish line with his hand raised in victory.
The importance of holding onto the baton
Typically held on the final night of the Olympics, the 4 x 100 m relay is my favorite track and field event. Four sprinters, each covering an equal distance of 100 meters, exchange a baton around a 400 m track within a restricted lane with the goal of crossing the finish line in victory.
Dropping the baton or stepping out of the lane can get you disqualified. In addition to being (to my mind) the most exhilarating sporting event, I suppose you could say that the relay race is a lot like Christian fellowship. Just as a relay team firmly handles the baton, so an assembly holds firmly to the word of life (Phil. 2:16).
Better together than alone
Even the slowest relay team will always beat the fastest individual in the same distance. The same principle applies to the assembly. No matter how much the Lord has gifted individuals, we simply cannot do God’s work alone. Consider the words of Paul to the Philippians: “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
Trivia question: who was the fifth member of the gold medal-winning 4 x 100 m Canadian relay team? You may be surprised to learn that there even was a fifth member of a four-man team. Carlton Chambers had run the first leg in the Olympic qualifying heats, relinquishing this role in the final race to Robert Esmie due to injury.
The substitution resulted in a gold medal and Chambers had to watch his teammates take their victory lap without him. Although there was only room for four on the podium, Chambers still got his medal by virtue of running the earlier heats. However, there would always be an asterisk beside his name.
Perhaps you feel as though you’re the fifth wheel in your assembly. If so, take heart! Concerning the so-called invisible members of the body of Christ, Paul says those members of the body which seem to be weaker are, in fact, indispensable (1 Cor. 12:22). Nobody can do your job like you do, so be encouraged that God sees what others don’t.
Satisfaction with your role
The Canadian relay team that won world titles every year from 1995-97 sadly fell apart when its two stars, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey, publicly feuded over who should run the glamorous anchor leg at the 1999 World Championships. Surin, on the heels of a medal win and personal best in the 100 m event, felt he deserved the role and so the order was switched at the last minute.
Disaster struck on the track when an exchange violation in the preliminary heat resulted in a disqualification. Because of its infighting, the team didn’t even get a chance to properly defend its title in the final. To this day, no Canadian relay team has reached the top of the podium.
Jealousy causes division
Paul talked about this type of attitude in the body of Christ where certain believers were jealous of the gifts held by other believers, causing division in the ranks. His advice was to be content with God’s arrangement, “But now God has set the members, each one of them as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).
Bert Elliot, brother of Jim Elliot, recognized the different legacy God had given his beloved brother who predeceased him, “Jim and I both served Christ, but differently. Jim was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.”
Beloved, we do not race for a gold medal fit for dust, but for an imperishable crown (1 Cor. 9:25). If you are saved, you have already won the greatest prize of all: Christ Himself – and He will never leave us! So, let us work together until the Day of Christ so that we won’t lose out on the reward that awaits us.