I love this photograph. Ollie Hoare of Australia has just taken down a world-class field in the 2022 Commonwealth Games 1500m, breaking both his PB and the longstanding Commonwealth Games record in doing so; the first Aussie to take the title since the great Herb Elliott more than sixty years ago.

I’m a big Ollie Hoare fan and have followed his career the last couple of years. But the genuine pleasure shown by his Kiwi rival, Sam Tanner, was truly wonderful too.

Tanner and Hoare have run plenty of races together and I’ve watched many of their match-ups on YouTube, at various European and US tracks. But when Hoare slumped to the ground in disbelief and emotion, Tanner—who came sixth with his own PB (all of the first seven runners all beat the previous 1974 record)—went over to him. He grabbed Hoare’s hand and, whooping and hollering, pointed him out to the crowd, so the crowd could revel in the achievement.

It’s was if Tanner just wanted to point Hoare out to everybody in that packed, screaming stadium and say “this guy!”—and that’s exactly what he was doing. Watch the video of the race and see how Tanner isn’t about self-glory but about pointing to the glory of someone else. Even after Hoare got back to his feet, stunned as a mullet, Tanner was geeing the crowd up and pointing to him.

It was a wonderful reflex gesture before the whole stadium. Take a bow yourself, Sam Tanner.

It was a wonderful reflex gesture before the whole stadium. Take a bow yourself, Sam Tanner.

And speaking of gestures, unheralded at the time but revealed later, another great Aussie runner, Eloise Wellings, should take a bow. Eloise didn’t win a medal either. She came an agonising fourth in the marathon (or, as the Spanish say, she won “the chocolate medal”).

During the race, eventual winner and fellow Aussie, Jess Stenson, realised her specially prepped and labelled drinks bottle with an energy gel taped to the side wasn’t on the table as she ran past. If you know anything about marathons, you’ll know that fuelling up at the right times in the race is crucial—both for also-rans such as me, and super-crucial for elites in a global race, such as Stenson.

Yet, as they were running in the front pack, Eloise handed Jess her own gel. Just like that. A reflexive move: putting her own interests aside in an act of grace.

Jessica Stenson (right) embraces teammate Eloise Wellings and Sinead Diver
Now it’s easy to say that that is simply friends being friends—we only heard about it afterwards, when Stenson told the TV interviewer. But for Eloise, it might have been more than that. She, along with former Ugandan Olympic team captain (and former child soldier) Julius Achon, run an aid agency in Uganda called Love Mercy Foundation. Check them out; they’re well worth supporting.

Eloise Wellings is a follower of Jesus and knows all about the grace, love and mercy he has shown her. That’s why her commitment to Love Mercy is an act of reflexive grace. But so too was her grace in putting someone else’s interests ahead of her own. She didn’t um and ah about it; it was reflex. That’s how she lives.

At the last Commonwealth Games in 2018, Wellings stayed trackside with the two other Australians in the race to wait for the last placed runner to cross the line and go and congratulate her. It was only four minutes, you say! Well that’s more than 1.25km at their pace.

There’s just something about grace, isn’t there? Something about the love that is defined by the grace of Jesus which leads to words such as these being penned in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And as a Christian I know the tell-tale signs in my own life when grace has fallen off the map. I can sense when my own understanding of what God has done for me in Jesus has taken a back seat. And the example of Sam Tanner and Eloise Wellings remind me what how it feels when the opposite is true.

I know the tell-tale signs in my own life when grace has fallen off the map. Sam Tanner and Eloise Welling show the better way.

When I’m not operating in grace, want to showcase myself and draw attention to myself. I can get chippy if other people get the glory that I wish were mine. Or I find that I compare myself with the success or gifts of others and lose my joy if I am not performing to the standard they are. Sam Tanner shows the better way.

When I’m not operating in grace, I find myself being self-serving, not out for looking to the interests of others as much as my own interests. And, more subtly, I find that—even in my serving of others—I’m hoping there’s a broadcaster somewhere telling everyone about it! Eloise Wellings’ quiet reflexive grace inspires and rebukes me.

The need for a grace race is vital for us because these unfortunate, indeed sinful, tendencies run in all of us. They threaten to derail us. But in these athletes, we see the beautiful alternative. They show us what it means to take the focus off ourselves and put it onto other people—and to even do it with joy!

What’s your reflexive move? Is it that kind of grace?

First published at stephenmcalpine.com