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Mormons to Watch for at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Athletes from around the globe are getting ready to compete in the dream of a lifetime this Olympics, and among them are many Latter-day Saints. 

Here's a list of who to watch for at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Lucía Palermo: Rowing, Argentina

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Appearing at her third Olympic Games, Lucía Palermo will represent Argentina in women's rowing. At the 2004 Olympic Games, Palermo competed in the women's lightweight sculls, finishing in 17th place. In 2012, she competed in the Olympic singles sculls, placing 21st overall, and won the double sculls in the South American Rowing Championships with Maria Gabriela Best.

Russell Holmes: Volleyball, U.S.

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The lead blocker for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2012 London Games, Holmes is back yet again competing on the U.S. volleyball team. An Eagle Scout from Foutain Valley, California, Holmes served a mission in London, England, and played for BYU. He helped his teams secure the FIVB World Cup in 2015 and the FIVB World League in 2014. Holmes' greatest pride and achievement is being a father to two daughters.

Sami Hill: Water Polo, U.S.

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The goalkeeper for the U.S. women's water polo team, Sami Hill makes a habit of taking first place. From the 2013 Canada Cup to the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, Hill has helped her team take first place with amazing saves. Born in Hawaii, she went to college at the Univeristy of California in Las Angeles before joining the Santa Barbara Water Polo Foundation.

Image from teamusa.org.

Maka Unufe: Rugby, U.S.

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This Olympics is a historic event for rugby players, as the game will finally be returning to the Olympics after almost a century of absence. The last time rugby was a part of the Olympics was in 1924. And competing this year is Latter-day Saint Maka Unufe, who lives in Provo, Utah. Unufe's first international appearance came at the 2011 Pan American Games, when he helped his team bring home a bronze medal. He brought home another bronze in the 2015 Pan American Games and is the 11th most scoring player in the U.S.—a feat that earned him a spot on the USA rugby team.

Dustin Williams: Track and Field, U.S.

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Image from the Deseret News.

Though not competing on the field, Dustin Williams is heading to the 2016 Games as the U.S. track and field team's head athletic trainer. A returned missionary who served in England, Williams met his wife, Jillian Camarena, at the 2008 Olympic trials. She was a shot-putter who later went to the 2012 Olympics.

Jared Ward: Marathon, U.S.

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Jared Ward, a 27-year-old returned missionary who served in Pennsylvania, will be competing as one of the three U.S. runners in the men's marathon in the 2016 Olympics. Apart from being a full-time runner and a father of two, Ward is also an adjunct professor of statistics at BYU and uses his expertise in math to help perfect his running. Though Ward ran cross-country at Davis High and BYU, he didn’t run his first marathon until 2013. 

Valerie Adams: Shot Put, New Zealand

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Valerie Adams already has two gold medals in shot put, one from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and another from the 2012 London Olympics. She is also a four-time world champion and a three-time world indoor champion. But now Adams is back to add to her collection of medals as she competes with the New Zealand track and field team. Earlier this year she also celebrated her wedding in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. 

Sarah Robles: Weightlifting, U.S.

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Coming in at seventh place at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Robles is back for another attempt at an Olympic medal. Robles, a top-ranked shot putter in college, didn't start doing Olympic-style lifts until just four years before her first Olympic appearance. When she showed up at the 2012 Games, she was the highest-ranked female weightlifter in the U.S. She'll be competing in the 75-plus kilogram division at the 2016 Games.

Taylor Sander: Volleyball, U.S.

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Standing at 6-feet 4-inches, Taylor Sander is a force to be reckoned with. The former BYU player is a four-time All-American and was the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s National Player of the Year in 2014. During his debut with the U.S. national team at the 2014 World Championship Qualifier, he was named the best server and he quickly became a starter for the team. He married Rachel McQuivey in 2015.

Jake Gibb, Beach Volleyball, U.S.

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A University of Utah graduate, Jake Gibb has seen his fair share of Olympic competitions, coming in at fifth place in both the 2008 and 2012 Games. Gibb didn't begin playing volleyball until his early 20s and he will be the oldest U.S. volleyball player at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Gibb is also a two-time cancer survivor, having fought with testicular cancer and a malignant melanoma on his shoulder. He and his wife, Jane, were married in 2000. Fun fact: Jake Gibb's middle name is Striker.

Casey Patterson: Beach Volleyball, U.S.

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A BYU graduate, Casey Patterson will make his Olympic debut with seasoned athlete Jake Gibb. In 2013 he was named the Best Offensive Player and earned Team of the Year with Gibb. The two came in at fifth place in the 2015 Beach World Championships. Paterson married his wife, Lexi, in 2005 and is now the father of two children. 


Lydia Casey Jele: Track and Field, Botswana

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Image from www.botswanayouth.com.

Latter-day Saint Lydia Casey Jele is the first woman from Botswana to qualify for an Olympic track event. The 26-year-old will be running the 400m. She studied agriculture at the Bershite College of Agriculture and married her husband, Ofentse Edward Jele, in July 2011.

Cody Sanderson: Wrestling, U.S.

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Cody and Cael Sanderson with Penn State wrestler Nico Megaludis.

Though not competing in the Olympics, Cody Sanderson will be appearing at the 2016 Rio Olympics to coach competitor Frank Molinaro. Brother to Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, Cody Sandserson works as the associate wrestling coach at Penn State. Sanderson helped create the nation's first Division I wrestling program in 30 years from scratch when he formed the Utah Valley University wrestling team.

John Nunn: Racewalking, U.S.

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A three-time Olympic competitor, John Nunn is a competitive racewalker, an Eagle Scout, a returned missionary who served in Las Vegas, and a father. The Californian will compete for the second time in the 50-kilometer racewalking competition in the 2016 Rio Olympics, having competed in the same event in the 2012 Games. In the 2004 Games, Nunn competed in the 20-kilometer racewalk. At a young age, Nunn hated rac walking, but his family's encouragement and scholarship offers convinced him to keep with the sport. Currently, he runs a gourmet cookie business with his daughter, Ella.

Mykayla Skinner: Gymnastics (Alternate), U.S.

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A 19-year-old from Arizona, Mykayla Skinner won a team gold and an individual bronze medal in the 2014 world championships in China. After taking fourth overall in the Olympic trials, Skinner was selected as an alternate for the USA gymnastic team. Later this fall, Skinner will attend the University of Utah.

Leilani Mitchell: Basketball, Australia

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Standing at only 5 feet 5 inches, Leilani Mitchell isn't the tallest basketball player you'll see on the court. But that doesn't slow her down in the least. An American-Australian basketball player with dual citizenship, Mitchell was the star of her high school basketball team in Washington. That earned her a scholarship to the University of Idaho and later the University of Utah, where she was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. In 2008, she was drafted 25th overall by the Phoenix Mercury. Currently, she plays for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL in Australia when she's not representing Australia in the Olympics.

Jackson Payne: Gymnastics (Alternate), Canada

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After possibly jeopardizing his athletic career to serve a two-year mission in South Korea, gymnast Jackson Payne began training hard for the 2016 Olympics. His work paid off as he won first place at two Canadian championships in both the all-around and parallel bars divisions. Now he will be traveling to Rio as an alternate. Payne first discovered his knack for gymnastics at the age of six when he and his family were picking up his sister from gymnastics practice.

Paralympic Athletes

Heading to Rio this year along with several other LDS athletes are three inspiring Paralympic athletes. Learn more about these incredible athletes and how they have overcome difficulties to make it to the 2016 Rio Games.

Eric Bennett: Archery, U.S.

After a terrible car accident when he was a teenager, Eric Bennett had to have his right arm amputated. In the past, Bennett has used a mechanical release attached to a shoulder harness to allow him to compete in the sport he loves: archery.

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However, after the 2012 Paralympic Games, the rules changed and Bennett had to find a new way to shoot with one arm. But that hasn't slowed him down.

In the 2012 Paralympics, before the rule change, Bennett finished fourth. In 2015, Bennett won the World Archery Para Championships in Donaueschingen, Germany. And just recently, in May 2016, Bennett earned a Gold Olympian Adult Achievement Award from USA Archery’s Achievement Award Program.

Josh Wheeler: Rugby, U.S.

Josh Wheeler loves to play murderball, the original name for wheelchair rugby. He fell in love after the first hit, and now he's one of the best players in the United States. In 2009, he made the U.S. Quad Rugby Association's developmental national team after just playing for two seasons.

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Wheeler has always been active. Growing up, he loved playing basketball, mountain biking, and playing football. But in 2016, a driver didn't see Wheeler while he was on his motorcycle, turning directly in front of him.

The crash left Wheeler in a coma for a week. It also broke his neck.

Wheeler woke up to find he had no function in his lower body and partial function in his right arm and hand. But Wheeler was determined to stay active. Just a year after the accident, Wheeler was out on the field for his first wheelchair rugby game.

A returned missionary who went to BYU, Josh Wheeler competed in the 2012 Olympic Games and he won first in the 2013 World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge and third in the 2014 World Championships.

Jason Smyth: Track and Field, Ireland

At 9 years old, Jason Smyth was diagnosed with an eye disease that reduces his vision, but that hasn't stopped him from pursuing his passion. Though unable to serve a traditional LDS mission, Smyth says, "Instead I have been blessed with a talent that takes me all over the world and allows me to meet many different people. I try to use these opportunities to share some of the things I know through interviews, public speaking events, and by sharing my beliefs with the people I meet."

In the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, Smyth broke two world records and took home gold in the 100m and 200m. In his very next Paralympic appearance in 2012, Smyth accomplished the same incredible feat, breaking both world records and bringing home two more golds in the 100m and 200m, earning the title of the fastest Paralympic athlete ever. Now, Smyth is gearing up for his third Paralympic appearance.

Tyson Gunter: Track and Field, U.S.

Tyson Gunter has albinism. As a result of his condition, his vision is limited and his depth perception is virtually non-existent. After an LDS mission to Washington, he walked on to the track team at Idaho State University. After college, Gunter made his presence felt on the international stage. In 2013, he won the silver medal in the high jump at the Paralympic World Championships in Lyon, France. Two years later, he won the silver medal in the long jump at the Para Pan America Games in Toronto, Canada.

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However, The International Paralympic Committee recently elected to remove jumping events for Gunter's class (T13 limited vision), which meant that if Gunter wanted to compete in Rio, he couldn't get there as a jumper. Instead, he had to qualify as a sprinter for the 100m and 400m—the latter of which he describes as "one of the most hated events in all sports."

No matter what he's facing, however, Gunter always places his faith first. "The gospel has influenced everything in my life," Gunter says. "I think that is the whole goal, to live the gospel and not just go to church . . . I don't do everything perfectly, of course, but I always try to consider my decisions based on the lifestyle that the gospel teaches."

Ann Yoshida: Canoe/Kayak, U.S.

When a car ran a light, slamming into the side of the car Ann Yoshida was riding in, Yoshida was left paralyzed and with a brain injury that required her to be placed in a medically induced coma.

Months later, Yoshida awoke only to find that she couldn't speak; she had to begin using sign language to communicate.

An athletic and competitive person, Yoshida wasn't discouraged by this new challenge. Relying on her spirituality, she quickly began doing all of the things she loved to do before: talking, tennis, racing, surfing, outrigger canoeing, off-road hand-cycling, paddle boarding, painting, and traveling.

Now, Yoshida is competing in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Outside of competing, Yoshida is also pursuing a doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy at Pacific University and devotes her time to rehabilitating others who have been injured and making her community more inclusive for people of all abilities.


All images, unless otherwise specified, are from Getty Images.