Famous Latter-day Saints

President Hinckley, Donny Osmond + 12 Other Mormons Who Have Carried the Olympic Torch


It's that time again where millions watch in awe as the best athletes in the world compete in tests of strength, endurance, and skill. As one of the eagerly watched signs that the Olympics are approaching is the ceremonial journey of the Olympic Torch.

Thousands of people around the world help carry the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, to a new host city before the Summer or Winter Olympic Games. And among those thousands are Latter-day Saints. 

► You'll also like: 77 Mormons Who Have Competed in the Olympics

1-3. President Hinckley, Elder Maxwell, and Elder Hales (Salt Lake City, 2002)

In the days leading up to the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Elder Robert D. Hales carried the Olympic flame up the steps of the Church Administration Building. There, he passed it off to President Gordon B. Hinckley, who held it high as he gave a brief salute to the athletes, organizers, state of Utah, the United States, and the world.

He then passed the flame on to cancer survivor and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Neal A. Maxwell.  

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Photo from KSL

But the Prophet and Elders Hales and Maxwell weren't the first Latter-day Saint to hold the Olympic flame. In honor of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, we took a peek into the history of Mormons and the Olympic torch.

Though hundreds of Latter-day Saints have held the special flame, here is just a sample of the incredible stories of those who have held the Olympic torch. For a longer list, check out the following from LDS Church News: "Torchbearers from All Walks of Life," "Torchbearers," "Olympic Torch Arrives in Salt Lake City," Torchbearers Part 2," "Olympic Torchbearers," "Olympic Torchbearers Part 2," and "Olympic Torchbearers Part 3."

4. Donny Osmond (Salt Lake City, 2002)

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In addition to performing for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Donny Osmond held the Olympic Torch. In 2018, Donny shared his thoughts on this momentous occasion on his Facebook page:

"I can't help but get a little nostalgic each time the Olympics roll around," he shared. "16 years ago, I had the great privilege of passing the Olympic torch and performing in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
"Has anyone else been counting down the days until the #pyeongchang2018 games begin?"

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

5. Ann Romney (Salt Lake City, 2002)

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Photo courtesy of Ann Romney

When Ann Romney was nominated by her husband, Mitt, to carry the torch, she couldn't really run due to her battle with Multiple Sclerosis. After her nomination, however, she began training and preparing for the event.

She shared some of her thoughts about the experience in an interview with LDS Living:

"The first thought that came into my mind when I was handed the Olympic torch on a residential street in East Salt Lake City was probably the same thought as the almost 12,000 people who had carried it before me: Don’t drop it!
"I grasped it tightly in my right hand, held it up triumphantly, and began jogging. I was so psyched up for that moment that I took right off—leaving Mitt, Josh, and his wife Jen, standing there dumbfounded. . .
"I wasn’t as invincible as I had hoped to be, though. Toward the end, I started getting tired. That torch was getting mighty heavy. Mitt reached over and helped me hold it up, and that’s the way we finished our portion of the run together. It was so appropriate.”

6. Jim Johnson (Salt Lake City, 2002)

When nominations began for the Olympic torchbearers that would trace a path to Salt Lake City, Utah, Jim Johnson's name was submitted—but not by anyone he knew personally. While hiking in the Grand Canyon, Johnson came across a mother and daughter whom he recognized wouldn't be able to make it out of the canyon before dark. So he helped carry their packs and made sure they made it safely out before the light disappeared. In return for his help, the mother and daughter nominated Johnson to carry the flame.

7. George E. Freestone (Salt Lake City, 2002)

At 103 years old, George E. Freestone was the oldest torchbearer in the 2002 torch relay. He was also recognized as the oldest living Boy Scout in America, having joined one of the first two troops in the U.S. when he was just 12. Freestone passed away in 2003 at 104.

8. H. Smith Shumway (Salt Lake City, 2002)

H. Smith Shumway led his infantry platoon onto Omaha Beach on D-Day in June 1944. Almost two months later, he was injured in an explosion and lost both of his eyes. It took several years for Brother Shumway to heal and be rehabilitated. He married Sarah Bagley in the Salt Lake Temple in 1948 and became a leading force behind helping blind people in the United States. Shumway carried the torch in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in January of 2002. He passed away at 89 in 2011.

9. Perris S. Jensen (Salt Lake City, 2002)

Born in Heber City, Utah, in 1902, Perris S. Jensen had the unique opportunity to carry the Olympic torch and flame at the exact time he turned 100 years old. Brother Jensen dropped out of school when he was 16, but through diligent personal study, he passed all the bar exams to practice law. He still pursued a college degree later in life, however, graduating from BYU in his mid-80s. Jensen passed away in 2004 at age 102.

10. Mikkel Nelson (Salt Lake City, 2002)

A deaf member from Idaho, Brother Mikkel Nelson carried the torch in Twin Falls, Idaho. He served a mission to the deaf and was a teacher at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind when he was nominated.

11. Verity Wright (Salt Lake City, 2002)

Twenty-three-year-old Verity Wright was nominated by her family for her determination to overcome the major trials in her life. When she was 16, Wright's family was on vacation in Mexico when she was hit by a car. With no reliable hospitals in the area, the family experienced many difficulties trying to get her to a Florida hospital. After spending two months in a coma in Florida, Wright was transported back to Utah, where she eventually came out of her coma. It took months of rehab, but Wright chose to go back to school despite advice from her doctors and psychologist. She finished high school, served a mission, and was about to graduate from BYU at the time she ran with the torch.

12. Norman O. Wahlstrom (Salt Lake City, 2002)

Brother Norman O. Wahlstrom carried the Olympic torch through Ogden in February 2002. He did so in honor of his mother, Mary Alice Wahlstrom, and his sister Carolyn Beug, who were both aboard one of the American Airlines planes that were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

13. Robert Korver (Vancouver, 2010)

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Image from the Deseret News

In anticipation of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, aspiring torchbearers were required to write a pledge of something they would do to help strengthen Canada through strong family values. Latter-day Saint Robert Korver made a pledge to raise awareness for Canadians with disabilities. He chose this pledge because of personal experience with his son, who had Asperger's syndrome, a facial deformity because of a tumor, and another disorder. According to the Deseret News,  when Korver carried the flame, he took it on a rare indoor path through the McMaster University children's hospital to give the children a special treat.

14. David Graydon (London, 2012)

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Image from mormonnewsroom.org

David Graydon was nominated to carry the flame before the 2012 Olympic Games. His nomination, from the Gateshead Youth Council, recognized Brother Graydon's service to young people in the community. According to those who nominated him, Graydon makes a difference by helping youth, especially by helping them achieve their Duke of Edinburgh's Award (a program that helps people age 12-24 develop life skills). Church News quotes Graydon as saying, “Being nominated to carry the Olympic torch by the young people I work with was a great honor. I love my job, and seeing the young people grow and develop is the best reward. Learning that they value my input and feel strongly enough to fill in a nomination is really humbling."


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