SPORTS: Olympian’s silver came before gold

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)--Brandon Slay missed out on his chance for Olympic gold four years ago in Sydney, Australia. Or so he thought.

Slay was facing Germany’s Alexander Leipold in the championship wrestling match in the 167.5 pound weight class. Slay and his coaches had dissected the German’s every move, and they had their strategy all worked out. Confidence was high. Slay seemed sure that his dream for an Olympic gold medal was about to come true.

But as the match progressed, Slay became the victim of officiating inequities. Although he’s positive he did nothing wrong, the referee warned Slay twice for rules violations and awarded the German three points. Slay had never before been penalized for wrestling illegally, but he suddenly found himself in a three-point hole. Give a world-class wrestler like Leipold a three-point advantage, and you’re not going to win.

Slay didn’t, and he had to settle for the silver medal. He also couldn’t protest the match because such challenges aren’t allowed in the championship round.

The story doesn’t end there. Three weeks after Slay returned home to his home in Amarillo, Texas, he was informed that Leipold had tested positive for illegal drugs. Leipold was stripped of his gold medal, and it was awarded instead to Slay.

Although Slay is happy that he officially won a gold medal, it didn’t unfold like he hoped it would. He wasn’t recognized as a champion at the awards ceremony in Sydney, which was what he wanted.

But through the ordeal, Slay learned some valuable lessons about life. Had he won the match against Leipold, he thinks he would have missed the message.

“God was showing me that I don’t have complete control over everything,” Slay said. “I think that God really wanted to teach me the lessons from the silver, the lessons from coming up short, the wisdom that comes from failure.”

Those lessons are important ones, as Slay is quick to acknowledge. The realization wasn’t an easy one for someone like Slay, who had worked toward an Olympic gold medal since he was 6 years old. He had worked hard to build the necessary physical skills. He had prepared himself mentally and strategically for the gold medal match.

But Slay figured out the hard way that there’s not much in life that he –- or anyone -- can control. He said he can control his obedience and his submission to God, but everything else is in God’s hand.

“It humbles you,” he said. “Having something like that happen to you is very humbling.”

It’s also a paradox.

“One aspect of that is frustrating,” Slay said. “It’s frustrating to our flesh and our human nature. But the other side of that is it’s freeing.”

Freeing because we don’t have to worry about our ability to run things. Freeing because even though Slay knows that he can’t control everything himself, he knows the one who does.

“God’s sovereignty is real,” he said.

Through it all, Slay came to appreciate the words of Proverbs 16:16: “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold.”

Looking back at it now, Slay knows he got both.


Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Mulkeytown, Ill. Write to him at bpsports@sbc.net, or visit his web log at www.thewinningspirit.blogspot.com.

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