Latter-day Saint Life

13 Olympians featured in general conference talks


Olympians have inspired many over the years, including leaders of the Church. Here are a few  whose names and stories have made their way into general conference talks. 

Christopher Fogt

Image from Deseret News

Christopher Fogt is a Latter-day Saint and Olympic bobsled bronze medalist who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. He will be competing again this year in the 2018 Olympics.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson praised Fogt's ability to persevere in his April 2014 general conference talk "Your Four Minutes":

“We also remember Christopher Fogt, a member of the team that won the bronze medal in the four-man bobsled race. While he could have given up after a devastating crash in the 2010 Olympics, he chose to persevere. After a fantastic, redemptive run, he won the prize he so diligently sought.”

► You'll also like: 6 Famous Olympians Who Became Mormons

Noelle Pikus-Pace

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Elder Stevenson also shared the story of skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace in hopes that the youth and young single adults whom he was addressing in his April 2014 talk would understand his "sense of urgency." 

"For you to feel that urgency, I first share the story of Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of those Latter-day Saint athletes. In Noelle’s event, the skeleton, athletes build momentum as they sprint and then plunge headfirst on a small sled. With their faces inches above the ground, they race down a winding, icy track at speeds that top 90 miles (145 km) an hour.
"Remarkably, years of preparation would be considered either a success or a disappointment based on what happened in the space of four intense 60-second runs.
"Noelle’s previous 2006 Olympic dreams were dashed when a terrible accident left her with a broken leg. In the 2010 Olympics her dreams fell short again when just over one-tenth of a second kept her from the medal stand.2
"Can you imagine the anxiety she felt as she waited to begin her first run in the 2014 Olympics? Years of preparation would culminate in only a sliver of time. Four minutes total. She spent years preparing for those four minutes and would spend a lifetime afterward reflecting on them.
"Noelle’s final runs were virtually flawless! We will never forget her leap into the stands to embrace her family after crossing the finish line, exclaiming, “We did it!” Years of preparation had paid off. We saw her Young Women medallion around her neck as the silver medal was placed there beside it.3
"It may seem unfair that Noelle’s entire Olympic dreams hinged on what she did during just four brief minutes. But she knew it, and that is why she prepared so diligently. She sensed the magnitude, the urgency of her four minutes, and what they would mean for the rest of her life.

► You'll also like: LDS Olympians Who've Competed in the Winter Games

Torah Bright and Kelly Clark 

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 Torah Bright earned a gold medal in the halfpipe in 2010 and a silver medal in 2014. Kelly Clark earned a gold medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and bronze medals in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Although competitors, Torah Bright reached out to Kelly Clark in an act of Christlike love, and Elder Stevenson praised the gesture in his April 2014 general conference talk. 

"As a skier and a snowboarder myself, I was deeply impressed with the “four-minute” silver medal-winning performance of Australian LDS athlete and snowboarder Torah Bright in the half-pipe competition. She dazzled the world as she finished a virtually flawless run culminating in a backside rodeo 720. However, even more impressive and surprising to the world was the way she reached out and demonstrated Christlike love to her competitors. She noticed that American snowboarder Kelly Clark, who had a bad first run in her final round, appeared to be nervous about her second run. “She gave me a hug,” Clark recalls. “She just held me until I actually calmed down enough and I slowed my breathing. It was good to have a hug from a friend.” Kelly Clark would later join Torah on the winners’ podium as a bronze medalist.
"When asked about this unusual act of kindness toward her opponent, which could have put her own silver medal at risk, Torah simply said, “I am a competitor—I want to do my best—but I want my fellow competitors to do their best, too.”

► You'll also like:5 LDS Athletes Competing in the 2018 Olympics

Peter Vidmar

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Not only was Peter Vidmar an Olympian mentioned in general conference, but he spoke in general conference. He won two gold medals as a gymnast in the 1984 Summer Olympic games, and in 1985 he was invited to address the Church during April general conference. In 2016, Peter Vidmar was called to serve as a mission president in the Australian Melbourne Mission. 

Here's a portion of what he said in his general conference talk: 

"I am very honored and proud to have represented my country in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Participating in that great competition is an event that I will always cherish and remember. My involvement in gymnastics, however, has taught me qualities that go beyond athletics. The qualities, characteristics, and keys to success in sports are factors that carry over to all other aspects of our lives.
"For those of us who, in any way, had the opportunity to view the Olympic Games, we saw the greatest athletes in the world performing at the very best of their abilities. Many of those athletes scored the most points, the fastest times, or the greatest distances in the history of the Olympic Games.
"But how did they do it? What makes a great athlete? I remember a great Olympic champion who once addressed this question. He named some important factors such as great coaching, good equipment, good athletes to train with, or just pure natural talent. All of these ingredients can go into the recipe for a great athlete, and each will help in its own way. But there is one quality that rises above all, and without it, the athlete is not complete. That ingredient is desire."

Read more of Peter Vidmar's talk here

After Peter Vidmar spoke, President Gordan B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency, said: 

"I am confident you boys were greatly interested in the remarks of Peter Vidmar. What a remarkable thing it is to be the very best in all the world in something. It is a tremendous achievement to have won two gold medals and one silver in the Olympics. Peter missed winning his third gold only by .025 of a point. That says that he is very good, and it also says that the margin between number one and number two can be ever so narrow, as he indicated.
"Peter weighs only 130 pounds. He is twenty-three years of age. He started with gymnastics at the age of eleven. He set his eye on the Olympics and prepared for eleven years for that great international contest. He was born in the Church and married in the temple. He is a member of the UCLA ward of the Los Angeles California Stake. He served a stake mission. In his manner of living, in his speech, in his activity, he is an example to all young men. Thank you, Peter, for being with us this evening and for what you have said."

► You'll also like: Just Asking: Interview with Olympic Gold Winner Peter Vidmar

Nadia Comaneci

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In the 1976 Olympics, Romanian athlete Nadia Comaneci was a 14-year old gymnast. She scored seven perfect 10s and earned three gold medals, a silver medal, and a bronze medal. Four years later in the Moscow Olympics, she earned two additional gold medals and two silver medals. 

Nadia Comaneci was one of the Olympians Elder William H. Bennet mentioned in his October 1976 general conference talk "Our Goal is Perfection."  He said:

"Just a few weeks ago the summer Olympics were held in Montreal, Canada. Were you watching on TV when that fourteen-year-old Rumanian girl, Nadia Comaneci, obtained a perfect score of ten in four of her performances, and one other girl did it once?"

Bob Richards

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Elder Bennet also mentioned pole vault champion Robert Richards in his talk. Known to most as Bob Richards, this Olympian won two gold medals and a bronze medal during his Olympic career. Elder Bennet was impressed by a story Richards related about a fellow Olympian who conquered polio to compete in the 1932 Olympics. Here's how Elder Bennet related it in his talk

"Success in athletic competition is pretty much a matter of attitude, knowledge, and skill. Inherent ability is important, but that alone is not enough. Do you remember the “Be Honest with Yourself” program sponsored by the MIA some years ago, in which inspirational recordings from outstanding athletes and others were made available for use throughout the Church? One of those records featured Robert Richards, an outstanding U.S. pole vaulter. He emphasized that the one thing that characterizes all great athletes is desire, and he told about a young lady from Holland whom he had met at the 1932 Olympic Games. As a girl she wanted to become an outstanding swimmer, but she got polio. She didn’t give up but continued her program. Improvement came slowly, but it came, and the day arrived when she was able to swim across the pool. She said that made her the happiest girl alive. Then the time came when she could swim the length of the pool, and then several lengths. She stayed with it day after day until finally she defeated the world’s greatest swimmers in her events at the 1932 Olympics."

Harold Connolly

Image from The New York Times

Hammer throw gold medalist in 1956 Harold Connolly is also mentioned in Elder Bennett's talk as an exceptional athlete who overcame great odds to be the best in his sport. 

"He was born with a withered left arm—only one good arm. But what an arm it was! He became one of the world’s best in the sixteen-pound hammer throw.
"Outstanding athletes think positively. They dream the impossible dreams; they reach for the unreachable stars; they say, “I can, I must, and I will”; and their achievements at times are unbelievable. This indomitable spirit also characterizes many of our handicapped people who because of war injuries, unfortunate accidents, or for other reasons have to face life against what seem to be impossible odds."

Cliff Cushman

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In his talk "Our Goal Is Perfection," Elder Bennett goes on to share this inspiring quote from Olympic athlete Cliff Cushman, who in 1960 won a silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles but was eliminated from the 1964 Olympic trials after tripping over a hurdle: 

"Over 15 years ago, I saw a star—first place in the Olympic Games. I literally started to run after it. In 1960 I came within three yards of grabbing it; this year I stumbled, fell and watched it recede four more years away. …
"In a split second all the many years of training, pain, sweat, blisters and agony of running were simply and irrevocably wiped out.
"But I tried! I would much rather fail knowing I had put forth an honest effort than never to have tried at all. …
"Certainly I was very disappointed in falling flat on my face. However, there is nothing I can do about it now but get up, pick the cinders from my wounds, and take one more step followed by one more and one more, until the steps turn into miles and miles into success.
"I know I may never make it. The odds are against me, but I have something in my favor—desire and faith. … At least I am going to try. How about you? … Unless your reach exceeds your grasp, how can you be sure what you can attain? …
"Let me tell you something about yourselves. … You are spending more money, enjoying more freedom, and driving more cars than ever before, yet many of you are very unhappy. Some of you have never known the satisfaction of doing your best in sports, the joy of excelling in class, the wonderful feeling of completing a job, any job, and looking back on it knowing that you have done your best. …
"'I dare you to look up at the stars, not down at the mud, and set your sights on them that, up to now, you thought were unattainable. There is plenty of room at the top, but no room for anyone to sit down.
"Who knows? You may be surprised at what you can achieve with sincere effort. So get up, pick the cinders out of your wounds, and take one more step.
“I dare you!”

Roger Bannister

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In his October 1990 general conference talk, "A Pattern in All Things," Elder Marvin J. Ashton shared the incredible story of one-mile champion Roger Bannister, who just missed medaling in the Olympics but went on to break the four-minute mile record: 

"One of my favorite sports stories has to do with Roger Bannister, who many years ago participated in the Olympic Games as a champion in the one-mile race. He was supposed to win, but he wound up finishing in fourth place. He went home from the Olympics discouraged, disillusioned, and embarrassed.
"He had his mind set on giving up running. He was a medical student at the time, and his studies were so demanding. He decided that he’d better get on with life and devote all of his time in preparing for medicine and forget his hopes about running the world’s record in the four-minute mile. He went to his coach and told him, “Coach, I’m through. I’m going to devote all my time to studying.” His coach said, “Roger, I think you are the man who can break the four-minute mile. I wish you’d give it one last try before you quit.”
"Roger didn’t answer him. He went home knowing not what to say or to do. But before the night was over, he had convinced himself that he would develop an iron will before he quit running. He was going to break the four-minute mile.
"He knew what this meant. He would have to set a pattern and live by it. He realized he would have to study seven, eight, or even nine hours a day to get through medical school. He would have to train for at least four hours a day.
"Also involved was running continually to build up his body to the peak of perfection. He knew he would have to eat the best foods. He knew he would have to go to bed early every night and sleep nine or ten hours, to let his body recuperate and constantly build up for the great day. He determined within himself that he was going to follow the rigid pattern he and the coach knew was necessary for victory and achievement.
"On May 6, 1954, the four-minute-mile barrier was broken by Roger Bannister—a tall, stooped Englishman with a big-boned, angular face and a ruddy complexion—a man committed to a winning pattern which would bring him recognition worldwide.
"On a dreary, cold, wet, and windy day, he went to the Oxford University track to put his theories and skill to the acid test. His parents and a few hundred others were present. The rest is history. Running strictly according to his charts and pattern, he ran the miracle mile in 3:59.4. He became the first man in recorded history to speed across this distance in less than four minutes. He had proven that man could run faster than was thought possible. He paid the price and reaped the rewards of following the proper pattern. Today in England he is a doctor in his own right. At the time of his victory over the one-mile barrier, he became an international hero in all the record books. The four-minute-mile barrier is broken constantly these days, but Roger Bannister set the pattern many years ago and followed it with total commitment, self-discipline, and a will of iron."

Garry Bjorklund

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President Thomas S. Monson praised the determination of 10,000-meter long-distance running Olympian Garry Bjorklund in his October 2007 talk, "A Royal Priesthood."Although Bjorklund didn't medal in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the story of how he got to the Olympics is pretty remarkable. President Monson shared: 

"In July of 1976, runner Garry Bjorklund was determined to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team’s 10,000-meter race which would be run at the Montreal Olympics. Halfway through the grinding qualifying race, however, he lost his left shoe. What would you and I do if that were our experience? I suppose he could have given up and stopped. He could have blamed his bad luck and lost the opportunity of participating in the greatest race of his life, but this champion athlete did not do that. He ran on without his shoe. He knew that he would have to run faster than he had ever run in his life. He knew that his competitors now had an advantage that they did not have at the beginning of the race. Over that cinder track he ran, with one shoe on and one shoe off, finishing third and qualifying for the opportunity to participate in the race for the gold medal. His own running time was the best he had ever recorded. He put forth the effort necessary to achieve his goal."

Eric Liddell

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Elder Quentin L. Cook highlighted the religious convictions of Olympian Eric Lidell. Lidell won the 400-meter race in the 1924 Olympics in Paris after refusing to run the 100-meter race on a Sunday. Here's what Elder Cook says in his talk, "Can Ye Feel So Now?"

"A historic example of commitment to be strong and immovable for all ages was portrayed by a British Olympian who competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.
"Eric Liddell was the son of a Scottish missionary to China and a devoutly religious man. He infuriated the British leadership of the Olympics by refusing, even under enormous pressure, to run in a preliminary 100-meter race held on Sunday. Ultimately he was victorious in the 400-meter race. Liddell’s example of refusing to run on Sunday was particularly inspiring.
"Depictions and memorials in his honor have referred to the inspirational words from Isaiah, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”24
"Liddell’s admirable conduct was very influential in our youngest son’s decision to not participate in Sunday sports and, more importantly, to separate himself from unrighteous and worldly conduct. He used the quote from Isaiah for his yearbook contribution. Eric Liddell left a powerful example of determination and commitment to principle."

► You'll also like: LDS Olympians Who Shared Their Faith on the World Stage

Shelly Mann

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In the 1956 Summer Olympics, Shelly Mann won a gold in the 100-meter butterfly and a silver in the women's 100-meter freestyle relay. In his April 1975 general conference talk "The Time Is Now," Elder Marvin J. Ashton told of the truly incredible hardships this athlete faced before obtaining victory. 

"There on the winner’s platform in the spotlight one day stood a beautiful, tall, blonde American girl. She was being presented a gold medal, symbolic of first place in worldwide competition. As she stood there, some boys whistled and others were heard to say, “There’s a gal who has everything.”
"Tears ran down her cheeks as she accepted the recognition. Many thought she was touched by the victory ceremony. The thing most of the audience did not know was the story of her determination, self-discipline, and daily action. At the age of five she had polo. When the disease left her body, she couldn’t use her arms or legs. Her parents took her daily to a swimming pool where they hoped the water would help hold her arms up as she tried to use them again. When she could lift her arm out of the water with her own power, she cried for joy. Then her goal was to swim the width of the pool, then the length, then several lengths. She kept on trying, swimming, enduring, day after day after day, until she won the gold medal for the butterfly stroke—one of the most difficult of all swimming strokes—in Melbourne, Australia.
"What if Shelly Mann had not been encouraged to achieve at age five and to continue and overcome? What a tremendous asset were parents who assisted her in the importance of now and today in preparation for tomorrow."

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