Seven Olympic Values: Friendship

Today’s Olympic value is friendship.

This is my favourite of all the seven Olympic values. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is an Olympic value, because true friendship is such a precious thing, and today friendship is shouted down and overshadowed by its more brash cousin “the one relationship”.

Friendship is defined in Olympic terms as “how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences”. I think it is this, but the Olympics have shown it to go far deeper than this. Two days ago I was watching the women’s triathlon, and was amazed in particular at the dedication of GB triathlete Lucy Hall. She finished first in the swimming, but what amazed me was her determination in the cycling leg not to try to lead the pack herself but to cycle in front of her fellow teammate Helen Jenkins, helping Helen save her energy levels for the running, since she had the best chance of a medal position.

Admittedly, it could be viewed in terms of tactics and teamwork rather than friendship, but there is something very special about the willingness of any athlete to be prepared to expend their own energy, and medal prospects, to assist and enable another athlete from their team to shine. Equally noticeable is the manner in which teams really seek to cover and repair the weaknesses of other team members. In the men’s gymnastics, after one athlete lost marks for falling off a bar his teammate seemed to work extra hard and produced an amazing performance to reduce the deficit.

It is in particular in the team events, not only cycling and gymnastics, but also tennis doubles, team fencing and team showjumping, that the selflessness and support of the athletes has struck me this week. Athletes of very different personalities, techniques and ages have shown how effectively they can work together: see for example the different ages and build of Tom Daley and Pete Waterman, yet they compete together for synchronized diving, a discipline requiring an extraordinary level of co-ordination!

True friendship is not superficial but sacrificial. There are so many aspects of it that became apparent at these Olympic games – encouragement, relying on others and allowing them to rely on you, putting aside personal ambitions to improve the chances of others on your team, and working seamlessly together.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). True friendship is the value of being ready to run the extra mile for your friends – looking out for their needs rather than your own, and sacrificing your own personal wishes desires for the benefit of the stronger friendship. It is that which makes it such a wonderful Olympic value.