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Olympics Edition: Couples in Beijing

Stories about married athletes at the 2008 Summer Games.
By Dave Boehi

August 2008

I love the Olympic Games, so how can I resist writing a special Olympics edition of Marriage Memo? Here are a few interesting "up close and personal" tidbits about married couples this week at the Beijing Games:

The rest of the story: In 2004, American shooter Matt Emmons won a gold medal in one event, but lost another in a momentary lapse of concentration. He was leading the competition and only had to hit his target with his final shot, but he accidentally fired at the wrong target and finished eighth. Afterward, he was approached by a Czech Republic shooter named Katy Kurkova, who offered her condolences. And you can guess the rest of the story: That gesture led to a longer conversation ... which led to a friendship ... which led to romance ...and last year they were married. They now live in Colorado Springs, Colo., but at Beijing they will be competing again for their respective countries.

Super 8: Last Friday, on the opening day of the Olympics in Beijing, thousands of Chinese couples were married. It wasn't just to commemorate the Olympics, however--the number 8 is considered good luck in China, and Friday was 8/8/08. In some cities, however, the couples weren't planning any festivities. One hotel official in Shanghai said no wedding banquets had been scheduled for his establishment. "I think most people will stay at home for the opening ceremony," he said.

Golden wedding? Two gold medal favorites in badminton--Lin Dan and Xie Xingfang of China--are planning to marry after the Beijing Games. In South Africa, fencers Michael and Elvira Wood became just the second married couple in that country's history to qualify for the Olympics.

Surprise proposal: Natalie Woolfolk and Casey Burgener are both members of the U.S. weightlifting team, and are planning to be married in the fall. Casey wanted to ask Natalie to marry him during the 2007 weightlifting world championships in Thailand, so he took her on an elephant ride through the jungle. The problem was that the elephant handler jumped off the animal before Casey began his proposal. "I was like freaking out," Natalie recalls. "Casey starts saying how much he loves me, and I'm, like, I don't know what you're talking about right now because I was completely distracted ... and then he proposed to me and I got it."

Nervous spectator: Adam Burks says he gets "nervous and sweaty and very emotional" when he watches his wife, Jessica Mendoza, play for the U.S. softball team: "My adrenalin's always going ... It's something that when you're with somebody, you love somebody and they're doing something extraordinary. You have a sense that you're part of something great. And it's just so neat to watch her at the level she plays at. I love watching her swing the bat. ... It's a rush. It's definitely a prideful feeling. It's a wonderful feeling."

Settling down: Maurice Wignall will compete for Jamaica in the 110-meter hurdles, but he lives in Dayton, Ohio. He says when he competed in 2004, "I wasn't married. I didn't have others counting on me. I had a single focus. It was all about competing. All I thought about was beating people. Four years later I have a lot more on my plate. I'm a husband, a father, a home owner. That can steal some of your focus. ... But it also adds a lot more, too. It's made my life a lot fuller. Now I have real roots."

A father's prayer: My favorite story is about the faith of Mickey Hall, a father in Big Bear Lake, Calif. Years ago Mickey was at a big high school cross country regional competition with his son, Ryan, then one of the top young runners in the nation. After the girls' race, Mickey observed the behavior of one of the runners, Sara Bei. "She was supposed to be one of the dominant kids ... and she doesn't make that team," he told Track and Field News. "She goes off, has a good cry and then comes back and congratulates every single girl who made that team."

Mickey was so impressed that he prayed, "Oh, Lord, Ryan doesn't date anybody. He's never even been on a date. If you could just let Sara show some sort of interest in Ryan." Ryan and Sara later corresponded by email, and then began dating each other when they both earned scholarships to Stanford. They married in 2005.

This year Sara failed to qualify for the Olympic team, but she'll be in Beijing cheering for Ryan, who won the Olympic Trials marathon. "My goal for Beijing is just to praise God," Ryan says. "I know that every single training run, every single race, no matter what, I can praise God every single time, and when I do that, I run well. I feel that's what God's created me to do." 

Meet the Author: Dave Boehi

Dave Boehi is a senior editor at FamilyLife. He has written one book (I Still Do), coauthored the Preparing for Marriage workbook, edited dozens of books and Bible studies, and produces the FamilyLife e-newsletter Help & Hope. Dave and his wife, Merry, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have two married daughters.



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