Overcoming “the Agony of Defeat”

by Ken Weliever

With the winter Olympics beginning soon, the name Vinko Bogataj comes to mind. Anyone remember him?

Vinko was a ski-jumper from Yugoslavia who, while competing in the 1970 World Ski-Flying Championship in Obertsdorf, West Germany, fell off the takeoff ramp and landed on his head. A film crew from The Wide World of Sports was recording the event when Bogataj crashed. When the popular show aired in the United States, host Jim McKay narrated those famous words, “The thrill of victory,” and he used Bogataj’s failed jump to perfectly illustrate “the agony of defeat.” Millions of Americans saw Bogataj’s failure over and over again, every time The Wide World of Sports aired.

Bogataj was hospitalized, but recovered and returned to competition. He later became a ski instructor and then a coach. He’s married and has two daughters. Today, he’s turned his hobby of painting into a successful venture with exhibits around the world.

Years after his famous fall, Bogataj was interviewed—unaware of his celebrity in the United States—and was surprised that his failed jump had been played thousands of times on American television. At the 20th anniversary of The Wide World of Sports, he was invited to attend and received the loudest ovation of any athlete at the gala.

Bogataj reminds us that failure doesn’t have to be final. Nor does it need to be fatal. As William Brown once wrote, “Failure is an event, never a person.” I was reminded of that truth this week while reading Mark’s account of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Jesus told the apostles on the eve of his arrest and trial, “You will all fall away.” Characteristically Peter boasted, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Jesus responded, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter emphatically insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:27-31).

What occurred next is well known to Bible students. Following Jesus’ arrest, Peter was accused of being a disciple of Jesus. Peter denied. Once. Twice. And the third time, the Bible records that he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. And Peter remembered the words of Jesus.

Failure. It hung in the air on that chilly night. It impacted Peter emotionally. Mentally. Physically. And spiritually. Peter had done the thing he never thought he would do. He denied Jesus. He forsook his Savior. He fell. He failed. Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matt 26:75).

Can you relate to Peter’s bitter tears of shame? Can you imagine the haunting thoughts that filled his mind? The feeling of failure? The heartbreak? The embarrassment? The disgrace? The dishonor? The agony of defeat? To one degree or another, we’ve all been there. No one is perfect. Everyone has moments where they’ve not lived up to what they know is right. Times of trial. Times we’ve quit. Times of suffering. Times of temptation where we’ve given in. Sometimes life is tough. Sometimes, it gets tougher.

But there is good news. You can overcome failure. You can defeat defeat. You can regain what you lost. You can find forgiveness. You can begin again. Peter did. And so can you.

Peter’s remorse led to repentance, restoration, and reconciliation. Jesus forgave Peter. His fellow apostles welcomed him back into their inner circle. He stood up boldly on the day of Pentecost and preached Jesus. He called for his hearers to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Scripture records that Peter did not live a mistake-free life, even after his denial. But he never allowed his failures to make him a failure. He knew how to examine himself, admit his shortcomings, and start over.

You don’t have to wallow in the shame of failure or “the agony of defeat.” You can get up, make a fresh start, and move on toward the goal. There is help. There is hope. There is Jesus.

You can move from failure to forgiveness. Could we be of help to you today?

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