John Sentamu: My tribute to Team GB heroes – and their values

Team GB's heroes return from the Rio Olympics.
Team GB's heroes return from the Rio Olympics.

FOR me, the Rio 2016 Olympics have been such a great outpouring of joy.

It was fantabulous to see family, friends and supporters of Team GB give them a heroes’ welcome as they touched down on home soil after securing the nation’s best ever Olympics. What an achievement to win 67 medals!

The swimmer Adam Peaty, who won Britain’s first Rio gold medal with a world record in the men’s 100m breaststroke, said: “I have only been here in the country a couple of hours and it’s amazing the number of people who have come here to welcome us.”

Our champion athletes were greeted with applause as they filed out of the gold-nosed victoRIOus plane at Heathrow before travelling home for a weekend of further celebrations.

Of the 366 athletes who went to the Rio Games for Team GB, 130 of them – just over 35 per cent – returned with a medal, including every member of the 15-strong track cycling team.

Yorkshire’s sensational athletes were phenomenally successful. Why am I not surprised? The prestigious list of top medal-winning athletes from the region includes Leeds boxer Nicola Adams with her flyweight gold medal, Sheffield’s Jess Ennis-Hill who we were rooting for to retain her gold medal from 2012 – she is such an inspiration – and Ripon’s double-medallist diver Jack Laugher.

God’s own county Team GB’s Alistair Brownlee became the first two-time Olympic triathlon champion with his brother Jonathan, who took the silver medal. Sir Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “Yorkshire is a great sporting county. Our athletes, with their hard work and determination, combined with outstanding facilities and the perfect landscape for a life outdoors, have produced this amazing amount of medals.” I, too, am so impressed by their achievement.

Whatever sport you follow, it has been fantastic to feel like a part of Team GB. To hear them speak about their joy and surprise of winning, or the despair of missing out on a medal by fractions of a second, allows everyone to share in the occasion. I want to congratulate them all for their hard work, commitment and the talents they have.

Their positive influence has a lasting impact on the lives of many young people. Role models and building leadership skills is something I talk about to young leaders, who are taking part in an award provided by my Youth Trust, when I visit schools across the North. To complete their award, all students must participate in a voluntary activity on behalf of their local school or community.

Some say that community regeneration is all about tackling poverty and social exclusion in disadvantaged areas and communities. Others say that it is about building hope and trust through providing a vision for making things better. The common thread is clearly about making things better.

When we think of community, some of us might want to return to the ‘good old days’ when it seemed everyone was part of a healthy thriving local community. But today we all have a part to play in helping to contribute to the common good. We may not be able to leave our back doors open and unlocked at night, but community is still there when you scratch below the surface.

We see it in the tough times – like when we were hit by the floods and everyone pulled together. Standing on the Foss Islands Bridge after the Boxing Day floods, I met with fire and emergency crews from Nottingham and Scotland who were on hand to help.

We’ve also seen it in the good times during the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations and the Olympics. Seeing the schoolchildren perform on the stage in the grounds of Bishopthorpe Palace on the occasion of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday made my heart sing.

I’m glad I stayed up to see Mo Farah become the second man in history to retain both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres titles. I even tweeted at the time ‘Sir Mo’! And Usain Bolt is a sprinting legend with a triple three golds at Bejing, London and Rio. His samba dancing would rival any Strictly Come Dancing routine too!

In the theatre of community we choose whether to be extras or take centre stage. But we are not actors; we are all living, breathing human beings, living side by side. You can tell the strength of a community by the way it treats those who are most vulnerable – we are all called to care and tend so that all can flourish.

The Olympics reminds us every four years about the essence of community. The Paralympics will again, I’m sure, teach us about strength in the face of adversity.

The Olympic flame has been put out until next time – But the light of God is available to us every day – the Bible reminds us of the essence of God’s love for us and the challenge to be his hands and his feet, bringing light and hope to others.

As it says in John 1, 5: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Thanks be to God! Thank God for Team GB! Thanks to Auntie Beeb for an amazing broadcast; the presenters, commentators and guests. Thanks to all the funders and may it continue. YES! Thanks to everyone.

Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York.