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First and Last

The Rio 2016 Olympics

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider our competitive drive and its consequences (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.

  • Note: the three verses in the Bible where Jesus uses the phrase, ‘The last will be first and the first will be last’ are found in Matthew 20.16, Mark 10.31 and Luke 13.30.


Leader: The Rio 2016 Olympics begin on Friday 5 August, with the opening ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Four years after the London Olympics, sportsmen and women will compete once again to become the best in the world at their chosen event.

Who do you consider are Britain's greatest Olympians?

Listen to a range of responses.

(Answers may include names such as Mo Farah, Kelly Holmes, Steve Redgrave, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Bradley Wiggins, Seb Coe and Chris Hoy.)

Most of the names that you have chosen share a common factor: they are all good at their sport and they have all won at least one Olympic medal – probably a gold medal! Some of the athletes may have won many more than one. To win those medals, they have trained hard and sacrificed both time and money to become the number one. They've truly earned their place at the top.

Reader 1: Jenny Meadows is an athlete who could also have made that list. She's an 800-metre runner who has never quite managed to get an Olympic gold medal, but there's a reason for that. Jenny has been among the world's best since 2007. She's come fourth, third and second in major international championships without ever managing to cross the finishing line first. In every instance, she was beaten by one or more athletes who have since been exposed as taking drugs to enhance their performance.

Reader 2: Jenny was eventually awarded one gold medal, for the 2011 European Indoor Championships held in Paris, when the winner was stripped of her title some time after the event. The winner's medal was eventually given to Jenny, but it was much belated and with little publicity.
For Jenny, who for a long time suspected that many of her rivals were taking performance-enhancing drugs, the frustration of such unfair situations drove her to train harder and harder. In the end, she pushed her body too hard and was not chosen to compete in the London Olympics.

Leader: So why did some of her rivals turn to drugs? I would suggest that there are two reasons. First, they were so desperate to win that they would do anything to achieve that goal. Second, they were encouraged to do so by others who wished to bask in the reflected glory of their victory.

The Rio 2016 Olympics is taking place under the shadow of suspicion and accusations about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly in the area of track and field athletics. Some of the top-performing nations have been under suspicion over the past year. Some athletes may not even be allowed to compete.
All this, simply because of the desire to win!

(You may wish to include the latest up-to-date information that is available.)

Time for reflection

Leader: How important is it for you to be a winner? I don't just mean in sport. We can be competitive in many situations: about our score in a test, our success in an audition, our place within a circle of friends and many other contexts. We may not be tempted to take drugs, but what other tactics might we be tempted to use to gain an unfair advantage?

Reader 1: We might be tempted to create rumours about our rivals, aiming to gain support for ourselves.

Reader 2: We might be tempted to openly criticize those whom we see as a threat, so that their confidence is undermined.

Reader 1: We might be tempted to exaggerate our own performance, hoping that this will give us a psychological advantage.

Reader 2: At worst, we might even be tempted to cheat and there are many ways to cheat in school.

Leader: Whatever our tactics, if we are motivated by the overwhelming desire to be first, we could seek to do anything to achieve that place. In that sense, would we really be so different from those who cheat on the track, in the swimming pool or on the pitch?

Jesus used a surprising phrase about winning and losing. He said, ‘The last will be first and the first will be last.’ He wasn't speaking about races or competitions, although these were common in the Roman culture of his time. He actually used the phrase three times, in different circumstances, but on each occasion, he was talking about the values that were important in a world governed by God's love, justice and equality.

When Jesus turned the idea of winners and losers on its head, he was trying to show that our importance as individuals is not based on how good we are, or whether we are high achievers. Our status is based purely on the fact that we are each unique. There is nobody like me, or you or the person sitting next to you, and as such, we each deserve to be congratulated on our successes, however small they might be. In the game of life, it really is the taking part that matters most.

So here is a challenge for you today. Look for three people who deserve to be congratulated because they have achieved something – and congratulate them! It doesn't matter how great or small the achievement might appear to everyone else. To you, they are a winner, and they deserve your praise!

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the support and encouragement of those around us.
Please remind us of the importance of encouraging one another.
Please help us to be fair and honest people.
Help us to realize the importance of trying hard and taking part, even if we are not always the winner.


‘Celebration’ by Kool and The Gang

Publication date: July 2016   (Vol.18 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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