Bob Beamon and Jonathan Edwards
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How long is a piece of string? Ask two children to hold each end of a piece of string 8.22 metres (27 feet five inches) long.
In 1968, this was the longest anyone had ever jumped – the world record for the long jump. It was the year of the Mexico Olympics. Suddenly, a completely new name was all over the world’s newspapers. Someone had jumped what seemed like a superhuman distance in the long jump in Mexico. Show a piece of string 60 cm long (two feet). This was the amount by which the old world record had been smashed. An incredible feat – usually records are increased by fractions of centimetres, never by tens of centimetres.
The name which everyone was talking about was Bob Beamon. Bob Beamon was an American who was competing in his first Olympic Games. He’d been born 22 years previously, in New York. His mother died of tuberculosis when Bob was a baby of only eight months old. His stepfather was in prison, and he was brought up by his grandmother. His childhood was set against a background of violence and gangs. During a fight at school, Bob hit a teacher and was expelled. He was sent to a school for delinquents. However, at his new school he began to excel as an athlete, and began to break various records.
He eventually managed to get a place at the University of El Paso, in Texas, and during his time there he qualified for the Mexico Olympics. However, four months before the Olympics he had been suspended from the University athletics team for refusing to compete against Brigham Young University, which was a college with racist policies. So he was left without a trainer – only four months before the Olympics.
I’m sure that many of us who were following the Olympics at that time have that jump of Bob Beamon’s, that momentous leap, etched on our memories. But I’ve told his story today because Bob Beamon is someone who had faith in himself – despite everything that might have stopped him achieving anything: his childhood in a very rough and dangerous area of America, a mother who had died, a father in prison, expelled from school, dropped from his university athletics team because of his anti-racist principles.
If you have faith in yourself, you are determined not to let problems and difficulties get in your way. You believe you can do things, even though other people may say you can’t, or try to stop you doing them.
Show another piece of string, 10 metres long. Add it to the 8.22 metres string. Do you believe anyone can jump this distance? The answer is yes – in the triple jump. The first person ever to jump this far in the triple jump – the hop, skip and jump – was a British man called Jonathan Edwards. He jumped 18.29 metres, breaking the world record, in 1995. In 2000 he won the gold medal in the Olympic Games. Jonathan Edwards is another man who has faith in himself. But there’s more to his faith than that. Jonathan Edwards isn’t afraid to say that his faith in God is even more important than his faith in himself. He says that in his jumping, “ above all I want to glorify God. I want to give of my best and if I win, I win and if I don't, I don't.”
Reading: Matthew 17. 14-20. (The boy with epilepsy and the faith that can move mountains).
People sometimes say that if you have enough faith, you can move mountains. Like Bob Beamon and Jonathan Edwards, every one of you can do much more than you realise, if only you have faith in yourself – if you tell yourself you can do something and are really determined to do it.
If you have faith in God as well as faith in yourself, however, you can do even more – but you have to remember, like Jonathan Edwards, that the glory is God’s, not yours.