Olympics

Big story update: What's going on with plans to repair or even 'modernize' Notre Dame after fire?

Big story update: What's going on with plans to repair or even 'modernize' Notre Dame after fire?

PARIS — It has been two months since a fire at the start of Holy Week destroyed the roof of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral. The large gothic structure now sits, enveloped in scaffolding, as a part of the low-rise Parisian skyline. The 300-foot spire that once appeared to stretch out to heaven is missing. These are constant reminders of that April 15 blaze and the hard work that lies ahead.

Rebuilding the ornate cathedral will be a painstaking task. Estimated to cost in the billions, Notre Dame has also become a pawn in a broader political fight that has divided France and much of the continent.

In a country so politically polarized — the outcome of the recent European election was another reminder of this — the fate of Notre Dame very much rests in the hands of the country’s warring lawmakers.

There has been much speculation since the fire over what will happen to the 12th century structure. A symbol of European Catholicism and Western civilization since the Middle Ages, a tug-of-war has traditionalists and modernists divided over what is the best way to rebuild.

“I think that some of the proposals are quite interesting, in particular, the notion of creating a very large glass skylight. If that were done to be a modern version of stained glass, I think it could be absolutely beautiful,” said architect Brett Robillard. “Stained glass was something of the first ‘films’ with light moving through pictures. So I think there is real poetry there to see modern technology paid homage to something so embedded in the religious spectrum and fill the spaces with beautiful light.”

Should Notre Dame be restored it to its former Medieval glory or reflect a more modern aesthetic?

This is at the center of the fight and, thus, press coverage of the debates.

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The Los Angeles Times misses wrestler's prayer refrain: 'Christ is in me, I am enough'

The Los Angeles Times misses wrestler's prayer refrain: 'Christ is in me, I am enough'

Does anyone have time for yet another Rio 2016 religion-news post?

One of the responses that your GetReligionistas hear when we criticize the faith-shaped holes in mainstream news coverage goes something like this: You guys just aren't realistic. In today's age of short, quickie digital journalism -- with journalists dashing off three or four stories and 10 tweets a day -- reporters just don't have the time and space to add secondary, deep-background details about religion and stuff.

Or words to that effect. Trust me, we understand the pressures, in an age when the advertising crisis in mass media has left fewer reporters in mainstream newsrooms, while the World Wide Web demands more and more 24/7 content. We know that reality issue is there.

The veteran scribes here at GetReligion -- with nearly 200 years worth of experience in religion news, when you add us all up -- can see the challenges. Trust me, we know that people on beats that bump into religious content, from arts to politics, from sports to business, don't have the time to write religion feature stories.

But they do have time to listen to what people say and then include a few details and quotes about faith, when it is clear that these details are at the heart of a person's life and work.

Take team USA wrestler Helen Maroulis, whose win over three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan was -- in one NBC soundbite -- something like an unknown sprinter beating Usain Bolt (that Catholic mega-star from Jamaica) in the 100 meters.

Now, it helps to know that Maroulis has been training for several years in Southern California. Thus, you would expect The Los Angeles Times to be anxious to tune her in and capture the essence of this huge Olympics upset. So here is some key material at the top of a feature about the gold-metal winner:

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Haunted house Olympics: How many of the faith-driven stories did you see in Rio coverage?

Haunted house Olympics: How many of the faith-driven stories did you see in Rio coverage?

For many Rio 2016 viewers, it was the emotional peak of the entire Olympics.

I am referring to what happened -- far from the finish line -- during a preliminary heat for the women’s 5,000-meter run. That was when Abbey D’Agostino of team USA collided with Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand.

Both went down. D’Agostino didn't know it, but she had a torn ACL. Nevertheless, she stopped and helped Hamblin. Together -- with the American runner clearly injured -- they finished the race. D’Agostino left the track in a wheelchair and, later, was not able to accept an offer by Olympic judges allowing both runners to run in the final because of their fine sportsmanship.

That's the story that everyone knows about, the drama that left viewers coping with tears. But why did D’Agostino stay behind to help, as the pack ran off into the distance? Catholic News Service looked for that angle, which was not hard to find:

“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
She had previously recounted how her reliance on God helped calm her anxiety before a big race. “Whatever the outcome of the race is, I’m going to accept it. ... I was so thankful and just drawn to what I felt like was a real manifestation of God’s work in my life.” She told Hanlon that previous injuries forced her “to depend on God in a way that I’ve never been open to before.”

Did anyone see that angle in mainstream coverage? Actually, one or two major newsrooms saw that religion ghost and ran with it, including Sports Illustrated online. But not many.

I was exchanging emails with a media professional the other day and mentioned that there was no way GetReligion could have done posts on all of the valid, and often crucial, religion-angle stories that received little, if any, news coverage during Rio 2016. I have never received so many contacts from readers about a subject, pointing me toward more and more URLs with other Olympics religion angles worthy of note. It was like one giant haunted house of religion-ghost stories.

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Washington Post cuts 'Sacred Heart': Yes, Katie Ledecky had help reaching her golden goals

Washington Post cuts 'Sacred Heart': Yes, Katie Ledecky had help reaching her golden goals

So who is winning the race, this far into Rio 2016, to be the beaming face on the front of the post-Olympics Wheaties box?

Will it be gymnastics icon Simone Biles? How about the amazing, and inspirational, Simone Manuel? Or how about the young swimmer whose record-smashing times have led some to call her the world's most outstanding athlete -- in or out of a pool -- at this moment in time?

That, of course, would be Katie Ledecky. The problem with this 19-year-old superstar is that she is stunningly normal, in terms of her life story. You can see the Washington Post wrestling with that reality in a feature story after her gold-medal blitz that ran with this headline: "Her goals met, Katie Ledecky speeds toward the next chapter of her life."

Once again, note that this is not a simple sports story. The goal here is to talk about Ledecky as a person, to talk about her future and what makes her tick. What are her values? What will shape her goals in life, now that she is packing away her Olympics experiences and heading to her freshman year at Stanford University?

Yes, GetReligion readers, we are looking for some sign of her strong Catholic faith. Let's look at some of the crucial material near the end:

Somewhere in that hug line was U.S. women’s assistant coach Greg Meehan, who has been handed the keys to the Lamborghini. The Stanford women’s swim coach recruited Ledecky with a pitch touting the school’s storied and talent-loaded swim program, its Ivy-level academic offerings and its opportunities for even a legendary athlete to blend into campus life.

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What. It. All. Means. Simone Manuel keeps trying to tell the world her whole story

What. It. All. Means. Simone Manuel keeps trying to tell the world her whole story

I don't know about you, but I am still fired up about that stunning and historic gold-medal win by Simone Manuel in the 100-meter freestyle.

So, yes, here is a follow-up post (click here for my quick earlier take in this week's "Crossroads" podcast piece) on the news coverage of this young woman and her amazing Olympics story. In other words, the scribes in the mainstream press are still hard at work striving to tell the world (all together now) What. This. All. Means.

Let's start with some crucial video work.

For millions and millions of folks, Rio 2016 is experienced through the "how many ads can we make you watch" entertainment package offered by NBC Sports. The stories run by major news organizations are important, but the images that flash across that big, glowing wall in the home entertainment cave is what really matters.

So please click here and watch this piece of video from an NBC interview with Manuel minutes after her win. What are the first words that she speaks, when offered the chance to say What. This. All. Means?

That would be, "All glory to God."

This is not surprising, of course, for anyone who has glanced Manuel's Twitter feed. Here she is again with the other glowing Simone of this Olympics, as in gold-everything gymnastics icon Simone Biles (one of several high-profile Catholics on the U.S. team).

Now, watch the official NBC version of that same pool-side moment (at the top of this post) that has been posted at YouTube. Spot a key difference, after the editors have had time to work on it?

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Hey reporters: Faith plays a key role for Simone Manuel, Simone Biles and many others

Hey reporters: Faith plays a key role for Simone Manuel, Simone Biles and many others

So many faith-driven Olympics stories, so little time to discuss them. But, yes, doing a whole "Crossroads" podcast on the topic does help.

For starters, this morning we have yet another Philippians 4:13 sighting. It's right there at the top of the Twitter feed for Simone Manuel, whose gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle has to be listed among the most stunning upsets at Rio 2016. She defeated a pool packed with world-class stars.

So do you remember this particular New Testament verse and it's role in sports? That's the verse that proclaims: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

Think Steph Curry and his sneakers. That's the ticket. Remember the news story that suggested that Curry put "I can do all things" on his shoes as a sign of confidence and even ego?

Clearly, Simone Manuel is not hiding her Christian faith. But is her faith relevant, in terms of news coverage of her big win? If you look at the news today, it's clear that -- as an African-American heroine in the pool -- her views on #blacklivesmatter are sure to be explored. Consider this passage in The Washington Post coverage:

Those in the arena knew what that meant, because the scoreboard showed 52.70 seconds, an Olympic record, for both Manuel and Canadian teenager Penny Oleksiak — a dead heat that meant both took gold.
Manuel, though, shared it with a wider audience -- all young African-American girls. None had ever before won an individual Olympic medal in swimming. After preparation that took a lifetime, Manuel thus became a role model in less than a minute.

And later in the report:

“It means a lot, especially with what’s going on in the world today, just with some of the issues with police brutality,” Manuel said. “This win kind of helps bring hope and change to some of the issues that are going on in the world. I went out there and swam as fast as I could, and my color just comes with the territory.”

Now, I think this is high relevant, newsworthy material. That isn't my question.

The question I am asking -- the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I explored this week -- is this: "When does an athlete's faith become relevant in mainstream coverage?" Why do so many reporters struggle to include valid faith angles in their news stories and longer features?

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Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

Rio's Christ statue: Washington Post adds a delightful angle to the Olympics

The Olympics in Rio have already thrilled millions with the gold medal performances of champs like Michael Phelps and the Final Five gymnastic team. But the Washington Post takes the occasion to look even higher: at the statue of Christ who stretches his arms out over the city.

This delightful newsfeature, by the Post's veteran religion writer Michelle Boorstein, captures several sides of what she calls "the most recognizable Christian image in Latin America": the history, the sheer size, and the many meanings behind it.

Yes, meanings, plural. As Boorstein says, "Christ the Redeemer" stands high in that class of national symbols standing for many things to many people. And yes, religious and spiritual elements are on her list.

Her story smoothly blends background, color, humor and informed sources:

But Cristo’s meaning to Brazilians varies. Some see it as a tribute to Catholicism while others consider it a salvo against secularism. Still others in the rapidly diversifying country consider it a general symbol of welcome, with arms open wide. One of its original creators called it a "monument to science, art and religion."
Cristo is an iconic image of Brazil. It is "reproduced everywhere," read a 2014 BBC feature, "in graffiti art, sand sculptures on Copacabana beach — and even on skin." During Carnival, there is a street party called Christ’s Armpit, or ‘Suvaco do Cristo," that weaves its way at the base of the mountain, called Corcovado.

I can even forgive her for writing "iconic image of Brazil." Whenever I see that worn adjective "iconic" these days, it looks like a flag for "Creative Shortfall Here!" But this time, the subject matter deserves it.

This story has a lot of what we old-school journalists used to call the "Hey, Mabel!" -- fun facts you'd want to tell your mate right away. We imagined a husband reading the paper over coffee and saying, "Hey, Mabel! Did you know that …"

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Hey Los Angeles Times team: There was a purpose-driven ghost in your Phelps story

Hey Los Angeles Times team: There was a purpose-driven ghost in your Phelps story

Another day, another news report about an American at the Olympics, another chance to spot an important religion ghost.

Actually, this particular Los Angeles Times story was about the ultimate Olympian in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro -- as in Michael Phelps, the superstar swimmer who has 21 gold medals and counting, as of last night.

It's crucial to know that the goal of this story was to describe how Phelps turned his life around and made it back to his fifth Olympics, after a series of private-life disasters that suggested he was all washed up. But here is the angle for GetReligion readers: When Phelps tells the story of his comeback, was there a faith-based -- maybe "purpose driven" -- hook in there somewhere? Hold that thought.

First, here is the solid, punch Times description of the pit that Phelps dug for himself:

Four years ago, Phelps didn’t want to swim. He wasn’t training diligently. He wasn’t happy in the pool. He tried to fake it. Phelps managed to win four gold medals and two silvers in London, still performing at a different level than the rest of the world even when he didn’t care. ... He finally had enough.
Phelps retired for 18 months and wanted nothing more to do with swimming. Longtime rival and 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte predicted it wouldn’t last. He was right. Phelps couldn’t resist the lure of the pool and returned in April 2014. He gradually started to fall in love with the sport again. ...
The pivotal moment, however, came when he was cited for driving under the influence after leaving a Maryland casino in September 2014. Phelps, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of probation, enrolled in a 45-day treatment program in Arizona. This wasn’t his first run-in with trouble outside of the pool. Ten years earlier, Phelps was arrested for DUI and a tabloid published a photo of him in 2009 inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

So what happened to Phelps?

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Two divers, two faith-driven stories: Did the Washington Post just miss all the God talk?

Two divers, two faith-driven stories: Did the Washington Post just miss all the God talk?

David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver at the 2016 Olympics in 10-meter platform synchronized diving, finishing right behind a duo from the always powerful Chinese team.

If you saw this in The Washington Post this morning, you read about an amazing story of human strength and courage -- period -- with Johnson winning a medal while performing a dive that almost killed him when he was a boy.

If you read about this duo from Hamilton County Indiana in The Indianapolis Star (or followed the URLs I received this morning from various Christian news lists), you read a very different story. In this version, it's clear that religious faith played a major role as Johnson and Boudia managed to conquer their personal demons and win silver.

Which story is true? They both are, in terms of the basic facts. Which is more complete? It would certainly appear that -- when Johnson (see the video with this post) and Boudia are allowed to tell their own stories -- the religion element is absolutely crucial.

So we face a familiar question: Did the Post team fail to see the religion ghost in this story or was the faith element actually edited out of this dramatic narrative?

This is what the key material looked like in the faith-free version of the Johnson story, published by the Post:

Johnson was just 12 years old and going through a routine diving practice at Indiana University in Jan. 2009 when he attempted a difficult 3 and 1/2 somersault dive. It would later become his favorite move, but that day it was too far advanced and nearly cost him dearly. As he began to spin in the air on the dive, Johnson’s head collided with the concrete platform. He fell unconscious and plunged 33-feet into the pool, hitting the water head first and sinking.

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