Ethiopian Olympic Gold Medalist and the Blessed Virgin Mary

From CNA

London, England, Aug 10, 2012 / 04:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ethiopian athlete Meseret Defar provided one of the most emotional moments of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games when she crossed the finish line in the 5000 meter race to win the gold.

She then pulled a picture of the Virgin Mary out from under her jersey, showed it to the cameras and held it up to her face in deep prayer.

An Orthodox Christian, Defar entrusted her race to God with the sign of the cross and reached the finish line in 15:04:24, beating her fellow Ethiopian rival Tirunesh Dibaba, who was the favorite to win.

A teary-eyed Defar proudly showed the picture of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus that she carried with her for the entire race.

Throughout the event, Defar kept pace with three other Ethiopian runners and three from Kenya, until speeding past them on the homestretch to win gold.


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  1. PA mom says:

    How wonderful for her! I have noticed several clearly and sincerely crediting and thanking God after, but this is the first mention of Our Lady.

  2. acardnal says:

    I saw this last night on the NBC tape delay broadcast. I thought it was great but the camera didn’t stay on the image very long nor did any of the commentators mention it.

  3. Horatius says:


  4. jessicahoff says:

    Well, her Church is one of the oldest in the Christian world and has survived much persecution. Lovely to see her gratitude to Our Lady – and, of course, the MSM couldn’t cope, any more than they could with Usain Bolt thanking God for his victory.

  5. E says:

    Our Lady seems to be popular with young women winning gold.
    “…she prays the Hail Mary before every race. ”

  6. RobertK says:

    St Mary as the Ethiopians call her. God bless Ethiopia!!.

  7. cwalshb says:

    Always admired Meseret Defar when I was a distance runner. Now even more points for her!

    Gotta love these Olympic Gold Medalists crediting God recently? So far we have Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Gabby Douglas, Defar, Bolt…any others?

  8. Therese says:

    “I thought it was great but the camera didn’t stay on the image very long nor did any of the commentators mention it.”

    Acardnal, I was watching the NBC repeat showing of Olympic coverage last night but did not see this. I did wonder, however, why after the gold medal winner crossed the finish line she was out of sight of the cameras for a few minutes. Now I know.

    NBC has been showing ads for a new “family” sitcom series, “The New Normal,” between live coverage during primetime when kids are watching. Really horrible stuff.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    I saw this, and it was a wonderful moment. I’ve noticed more than one Olympian thanking God when interviewed by the media immediately after their event. The reporters always ignore it or gloss over it. Good for the Olympians!

  10. sea the stars says:

    Don’t forget Women’s Boxing Gold Medallist Katie Taylor from Ireland. She is a Pentecostal, and she has the words “The Lord is my Strength and My Shield” on the back of her boxing gown.

  11. Mgoog says:

    I watched the race during which the announcer stated she was an ambassador for the UN Population Fund but the icon of Mary was prominently displayed.

  12. Now if that doesn’t warm ones heart to devotion to the All holy Theotokos!

  13. frjim4321 says:

    That is a very moving picture.

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  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “There is no hound in fleetness or in chase,
    No north wind nor rapid river,
    As quick as the Mother of Christ to the deathbed
    To those who entitled to her kindly protection.”

  16. mike cliffson says:

    Any other walk in life with as big a perecentage happy to make this public witness?

  17. Random Friar says:


  18. kelleyb says:

    I watched last night. Tears sprung to eyes when I saw the picture. God bless Meseret Defar.

  19. contrarian says:

    That is really a beautiful and powerful picture.

  20. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Jim, it is a very moving picture isn’t it. There is something wonderful about her expression. Hard to define, but wonderful.

  21. Laura98 says:

    After a very lousy day… I needed to read something as uplifting and wonderful as this! Meseret Defar has obviously loved and been devoted to Our Lady for a long time. And Our Lady has Blessed her. How beautiful is this???

  22. Father G says:

    How beautiful and moving it was to see it!
    When Meseret pulls out the icon and shows it to the camera man, he actually zooms in on the icon!

    It is an Ethiopian version of the icon of Our Lady of the Passion (the most popular copy is the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help). It is found in many Ethiopian Orthodox and Ge’ez -rite Catholic parishes such Kidane-Mehret Ge’ez-rite Catholic Church in Washingtion, D.C:

  23. capchoirgirl says:

    This was AWESOME. Really, no commentary needed. Just pure awesome.

  24. Gail F says:

    She had it pinned to the inside of her shirt. It seems to be printed on fabric. When she crossed the finish line, crying, she immediately grabbed the neck of her shirt and started unpinning it. I knew what it was (the picture was already making the rounds from when the race was live) and I figured that they wouldn’t show it on NBC, but they did — as well as the moment when, kneeling, she covered her face with it. Kind of bizarre, but very touching. I am very glad NBC showed it, especially given (as noted above) their incessant promotion of that repulsive new show. The gloves have come off and they’ve gone to straight propaganda. I wonder who at NBC thought that was a winning idea for a show?

  25. StJude says:

    I saw it on tv too… it was a fantastic moment.

    Good for her.

  26. anthtan says:

    Just watching the Men’s Marathon. The winner, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, upon finishing the race, knelt down, spread out his nation’s flag on the road, kissed it, clasped his hands and then crossed himself (yes, Roman Catholic style) before finally raising his arms in triumph.

  27. Kerry says:

    Highlight of the women’s 5000 meter are still up at nbc olympics dot com, (click on viedos, and then select ‘Track & Field’), and the image fills the screen. “And the crowd went wild!”

  28. Alexis says:

    Olympic Gold Medalist and track runner Allison Felix for the United States is very up front about her faith and thanks God every time she’s interviewed. She says it’s all for His glory.

    David Boudia, Olympic Gold Medalist in men’s platform diving does the same thing and apparently had an influential conversion experience a couple of years ago.

  29. Ann Roth says:

    You can watch the race here:

    The end is at about the 1:29. Yes, Meseret Defar is out of the picture for a moment, which is odd but when they show her she has the icon out and it is plain to see. The commentary is priceless; as she is kissing the icon the voice says “There is obviously a message in there someplace, isn’t there?”

    Maybe it was just another example of the stupid commentary and background noise that is a hallmark of these Olympics. Ryan Seacrest, anyone.

    The media are just clueless as to what to do at these moments. There may be some open hostility but I think they are just clueless some of the time.

  30. Another young Russian female athlete, who is part of a troupe, very visibly made the Sign of the Cross in Russian fashion. Good to see some of these youngsters demonstrating acts of Faith.

  31. Inigo says:

    The Church needs more of such witnessing. How many times did we kiss our rosaries in public when we’ve achieved something? Do we even carry a rosary with us?

    This lady is very inspiring. God bless her, and her Church!

  32. The Cobbler says:

    This is going to sound a lot more negative than I mean it, but this makes me want to knock some patriarchs’ heads together. I mean they way we both think of Mary it’s obvious we and the Orthodox ought to belong to the same big family!

  33. The Cobbler says:

    *the way

    Need to make a better habit of hitting preview.

  34. aquinas138 says:

    The Ethiopian Church has a great love for the Blessed Virgin and possesses a vast apocryphal literature devoted to her, some of it quite interesting and beautiful. In Amharic, Protestants are sometimes called “sara Maryam” – “enemies of Mary.”

  35. ByzCath08 says:

    Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Glory to him forever!

  36. digdigby says:

    Dear Motherless Protestant ‘Reformation’,
    All of the 20+ most ancient Christian churches – ALL of them venerate the Virgin Mary and refer to her as Mother of God. (When I say ancient I mean Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Chaldean etc. – I don’t mean Azusa Street Mission.

  37. Nerinab says:

    This was an incredible moment and what a witness! My 15 year old daughter, who runs XC and track said, “Wow. Maybe I should start carrying an icon of our Blessed Mother.” She was visibly moved and pronounced the whole episode as “Cool.”

    I have found the media to be completely flat-footed with any reference to God this Olympics. I don’t know if they are told to ignore the comments, but it doesn’t speak well for the pundits. Why can’t they simply acknowledge that faith plays a role in so many of the athletes’ lives?

  38. irishgirl says:

    I wasn’t able to watch any of the Olympics on NBC-no functioning TV-but my eyes are tearing up as I see this wonderful picture. What a moving moment, indeed!
    And how touching are the many examples of athletes who were not afraid of proclaiming their Christian faith to the world!
    May Our Lady, the ‘Theotokos’, bless and protect her Ethiopian child!

  39. Mariana says:

    All Ethiopian women runners crossed themselves before the start.

  40. eulogos says:

    digdigby- except the Nestorians. They do venerate Mary, but they don’t call her Theotokos.

  41. Michelle F says:

    I didn’t get to see much of the Olympics, and I missed this event. Thanks, Fr. Z, for posting this picture and relating the story! Seeing this woman and her icon of Our Lady really did my heart some good. Thank you!

  42. aragonjohn7 says:

    It is an Ethiopian version of the icon of Our Lady of the Passion (the most popular copy is the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help). It is found in many Ethiopian Orthodox and Ge’ez -rite Catholic parishes such Kidane-Mehret Ge’ez-rite Catholic Church in Washingtion, D.C:


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