2012 Summer Olympics

Olympian Gabby Douglas to Write Christian Book

Gabby Douglas at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C. earlier this week.

Gabby Douglas at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C. earlier this week.

They call her the "Flying Squirrel" — Gabby Douglas, the pint-sized fire-cracker who won two gold medals (and the hearts of millions) at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Gabby can flip, tumble, vault, balance, swing, totally stick the landing, throw out the first ball at a Dodgers game, charm Jay Leno and Howard Stern (try that, Michael Phelps!), and high-five the First Lady — all the while exuding confidence, good humor and the greatest of ease through her cajillion-watt smile.

So, what's next for the 16-year-old wonderkid?

A tell-all book... about her Christian faith.

Gabby is working on her first book — a memoir titled Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith — which is expected to be published at the end of the year, according to an announcement made today by the Christian publishing house, Zondervan.

QUIRK: Male Gymnast Performs Woman's Routine in 1981

The uneven bars is an Olympic event that only women compete in. (Men compete in variations on the event, in the single horizontal bar and the parallel bars.) But back in 1981, U.S. gymnast Paul Hunt decided to surprise a crowd in Madison Square Garden by performing an uneven bar routine while donning a bright pink leotard and bow. Unfortunately the video doesn’t have the greatest audio quality, but one can imagine the burst of laughter as he bounces back and forth. [via Perez]    

Muslim Women Olympians: 'This Is Legacy'

Dozens of Muslim women are competing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London — several of them as the very first female athletes chosen (and allowed) to represent their countries in the Olympic games.

These women are vanguards, shattering stereotypes, subverting cultural-religious mores, and creating a legacy that will benefit female Olympians of all creeds for years to come.

As has been widely reported and celebrated (in many quarters), Saudi Arabia sent two women athletes to represent the Arabic nation for the first time at the Olympic games — 16-year-old judoka (judo competitor) Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and 800-meter runner Sarah Attar, 19.

Attar, who is a California-born American but holds dual-citizenship in the Arabian kingdom because her father is Saudi, trains in San Diego, not far from Pepperdine University where she is a junior art major and also runs on the university's track team.

Shahrkhani, whose father is a judo coach and an international referee in the sport, won a dispute with Olympics officials earlier this week to be allowed to compete while wearing her hijab or traditional head covering worn by many observant Muslim women.

Saudi Arabia is not the only majority Muslim country sending its first women competitors to the Olympics. Brunei and Qatar also followed suit, sending five female athletes in total. Runner Maziah Mahusin is the lone woman on Brunei's three-person Olympic team. Qatar's four women Olympians are swimmer Nada Mohammed WS Arakji, sprinter Noor Hussain Al-Malki, table tennis player Aia Mohamed, and air rifle competitor Bahia Al-Hamad.

Both Mahusin and Al-Hamad were chosen as flag bearers for their nations at the opening ceremonies in London last week. Twelve majority Muslim countries — Tajikistan, Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Djibouti, Comoros, Brunei, Bahrain, and Albania — chose women as flag bearers at the opening ceremonies that were viewed by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.

The Religious Roots of the Olympics

Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

Ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

When the Summer Olympics opened in London, there was a version of a religious ritual in the Olympic oath, procession of athletes and lighting of the flame. This was no accident because the modern Olympics have religious roots, though they appear to have largely secular fruits.

I'm reminded of this fact because it was in London in 1908 that Anglican Bishop Ethelbert Talbot first said, "The most important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part" — a phrase that became part of the Olympic creed. He was following in the footsteps of the Rev. Henri Didon, a Catholic priest who gets credit for the official Olympic motto "citius, altius, fortius" (faster, higher, stronger).

The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was educated by Jesuits. "The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion … above and outside the churches," he said. He was influenced by proponents of "muscular Christianity," who turned away from traditional Christian contempt for the body and used sports as a method of strengthening faith and morality.

Muscular Christianity became popular in Victorian England and spread to the U.S., where it shaped the programs of the YMCA and Boy Scouts of America, as well as church sports leagues. Although it declined in mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, it remained strong in evangelical organizations, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Promise Keepers. Today, muscular Christianity is alive and well in professional athletes such as Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.

Jews, Sikhs, Hindus Root for Fellow Believers in Olympics

Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics.

Americans cheered when Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition, but at least some American Jews likely cheered a little louder.

“For people who are part of a minority, to see one of your own have this international recognition gives you enormous satisfaction and pride,” said Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where Raisman has worshipped since childhood. “It lets you say, ‘Look at what we’ve managed to do.’”

Members of minority faiths in the U.S. — Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — are rooting for U.S. Olympians and also saving a few extra cheers for their co-religionists, both Americans and athletes from other teams. Before they go to bed or when they wake up, they scan lists of medal winners and competition results, looking for names that might sound Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

But why?

In a sense, religion isn't supposed to matter in who a fan roots for, said Harold U. Ribalow, author of three books about Jewish athletes, trying to answer that question. But, he added, the evidence was overwhelming that people like to see those from their own groups do well, especially in the root-for-the-underdog world of sports.

GODSPEED: Female Swimmer Accused of Doping, Found Not Guilty

Big Olympic news today from Reutuers:

China has vehemently rejected suggestions of doping as a growing row over the astonishing performance of a Chinese swimmer threatens to overshadow Michael Phelps’s bid to become the most decorated Olympian of all time on Tuesday.

For those of you who don’t speak in sports lingo or Britishisms, that translates to “Chinese coaches reject claims that their star swimmer, Ye Shiwen, has been taking illegal, performance-enhancing drugs.”

Here’s the context. Yesterday, Ye Shiwen, a 16-year-old Chinese woman swam the 400 meter medley faster than all-star swimmer Ryan Lochte, a man from the U.S.A.

WHAT??!! Throw up the red flag! Women can’t be better than men at sports! Call in the drug dogs and blood tests. (The Twitterverse and other social media quickly echoed similar sentiments, rolling their collective eyes at outrage that a woman could break a man's speed.)

According to the report, Ye Shiwen went through "extremely thorough" tests from the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the British Chairman of the Olympic Association said she’s clean. 

"That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent."


MedalCount.com Customizes the Way You Follow the 2012 Olympics

If you're following the 2012 Summer Olympics, you probably know that China currently holds the overall team-lead with 14 medals in total.

But if you're looking to see how many medals Djibouti or Bangladesh have won so far, you may find yourself out of luck... that is unless you visit Medal Count.

Dedicated to covering every country at the London games, the site allows you to stay the most up-to-date with whatever country or medal you wish to follow. It even allows you to choose which events or areas you want to follow.