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First and Last

The Paris 2024 Olympics

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore our understanding of personal values and motivation.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. As you’re probably aware, the Olympics starts later this month, on Friday 26 July. It will take place in the city of Paris.

  2. So, we’re going to begin today’s assembly with a short Olympics quiz.

    The last Olympics should have taken place in 2020, but it was delayed until 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Ask the following questions, taking responses from the students after each one.

    - Where was the last Olympics located? (Answer: Tokyo)

    - At the Tokyo Olympics, what did Marcell Jacobs and Elaine Thompson-Herah do? (Answer: they won the men’s and women’s 100-metre races, and are the fastest man and woman in the world. Their names have gone down in Olympic history, alongside many greats from the past.)

    -  At the Tokyo Olympics, what did Zharnel Hughes and Daryll Neita do? (Answer: Zharnel and Daryll, who are both British sprinters, were placed last in the men’s and women’s 100-metre races. Zharnel was disqualified for a false start, so he wasn’t allowed to run. Daryll simply wasn’t as fast as the other seven athletes in her race.)

  3. Have you ever come last in a competition? It can seem like our lives are full of competitions nowadays. And I’m not just talking about sport; there’s competition to achieve the best result in a test, to get the best place in the queue, to buy the most fashionable clothes and the latest gadget. There’s competition in groups of people too: to be the most popular, the most listened to, the most amusing, the most influential. Life is a competition of Olympic proportions.

Time for reflection

How does it feel to come last? How would Zharnel and Daryll have felt to come last in their races? What have they done with that feeling?

Over time, both athletes would hopefully have realized how well they had done simply to reach the finals of the 100-metre races in the Olympics. It did not end how either of them would have wished, but both of them had made it through to the final. Other athletes, with better times and experience, had not. These two were among the top eight athletes at their distance at that moment. They had competed against their heroes and pushed them all the way.

However, this knowledge was not enough for Zharnel and Daryll. Over the next three years, Daryll won a series of bronze medals at European and Commonwealth level. She had entered the top three. She’d emerged as a consistent performer, a rival to Dina Asher Smith, the UK number one. She’d faced the challenge and was motivated to go better each time.

For Zharnel, the consequences of his Olympic disqualification have been even more dramatic. Last year, he broke both UK national sprint records, the 100 and 200 metres, to become the fastest ever British athlete. He also won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Zharnel says he has learned to relax, and not put too much pressure on himself to achieve. Both athletes believed in their own abilities, even after suffering a setback.

So, what might Zharnel and Daryll’s experience teach us?

We’re not thinking here about the great achievers among us: the winners, the successful, the inevitable victors. We’re thinking about those of us who are used to coming last, or at least not in the top three.

First, let’s appreciate our little victories. They might not mean anything to anyone else, but we know that someone in a lesson listened to our idea, that we got our highest score in that test, that we made the subs bench for that match. Let’s rejoice in these things, even if only to ourselves. Let’s make ourselves proud.

Second, let’s take these little victories as motivation for the future. Let’s not rest on our laurels - instead, we can aim even higher!

Third, let’s look out for those we’ve beaten, who may feel downhearted, who can only see themselves as failures. Let’s point out their victories and celebrate with them.


‘Proud’ by Heather Small, available at: (3.52 minutes long)

Extension activity

Jesus once said, ‘Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.’ (Matthew 19.30)

Ask the students what they think Jesus meant by this apparently contradictory statement. Is he being encouraging or discouraging? Discuss as a group.

Publication date: July 2024   (Vol.26 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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