Historic Mormon Olympians

By Keith Brown

Athletes who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have participated in several of the Olympic Games in many different events to include swimming, track and field, gymnastics, basketball, soccer, BMX racing, fencing, weight lifting, shot put, and volleyball, to name but a few. Each athlete goes through arduous training as they prepare themselves to be the best in their event with hopes and aspirations of bringing home a gold medal.

History of the Olympics and Present Olympians

London2012-Olympics-MormonThe Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competions. The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s foremost sports competition and more than 200 nations participate. The Games are currently held biennially, with Summer and Winter Olympic Games alternating, meaning they each occur every four years. The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Commmittee (IOC) in 1894. The IOC has since become the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority. [1]

Presently competing in the 2012 London Olympic Games are 21 members of The Church of Jesus Christ, and in the Paralympic Games there are 5 members competing. Like their predecessors who competed in past Olympic Games, some of the athletes will fare well in the competition and will get to experience the sweet taste of victory, while others will not fare as well and will experience the agony of defeat.

Mormon Olympians of the Past

Some of the Latter-day Saints who have participated in previous games include:

Alma-Richards-MormonAlma Richards who competed in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm (Sweden) and won a gold medal in the track and field event. Before his final jump, he walked to a spot on the infield grass, and in full view of an audience of 24.000 people, he took off his hat, kneeled, and said this prayer, “God, give me strength. And if it’s right that I should win, give me the strength to do my best to set a good example all the days of my life.” As soon as he said “Amen” he put his “lucky” hat back on, walked to the end of the runway, and, without hesitation, raced for the bar. He cleared it at 6-feet, 4-inches to set a new world record and earn the gold medal. [1]

Corey Engen who competed in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in the cross country and nordic skiing combined event. He was the captain of the U.S. Nordic ski team. While he did not win any Olympic medals, he was the recipient of 22 gold medals in national competitions and was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1973. With his brothers, Corey was instrumental in popularizing skiing in Idaho and Utah. He taught skiing at Sun Valley in the 1950s and in 1961 he helped to develop and manage the Brundage Mountain Ski Resort in McCall, Idaho. He later taught skiing at Snowbasin and coached the Weber State ski team. [2]

Robert “Bob” Detweiler who competed inb the 1952 Helsinki, Finland Olympics in the rowing event and brought home the gold. He attended the Naval Academy and was  in the fifth seat on their eight-oared crew that won the 1952 Olympic gold medal. He joined the LDS Church after his Olympic experiences.

Jack-Yerman-MormonJack Yerman, an Army Lieutenant who played football for the University of California-Berkeley in the Rose Bowl, was the lead-off runner in the 4×400 relay in the 1960 Rome, Italy Olympics. The U.S. team of Yerman, Earl Young, Glenn Davis and Otis Davis set a world record mark of 3:02.2. When speaking to youths, he often stressed the importance of living the Word of Wisdom.

Marvin Melville competed in the 1956 Olympics in Italy and the 1960 Olympics in Sqaw Valley, California in the men’s downhill skiing event. He did not win any medals. He also competed for the University of Utah, winning NCAA titles in 1959 in both the slalom and combined. After retiring from competition, he served a tour in the Army, and then opened a ski school for young racers and helped coach the Utah ski team. He was asked to be the assistant coach for the U.S. woman’s ski team for the 1964 Olympic Games. One of the team members was Jean saubert, an Olympic medalist. Melville introduced her to ther gospel and baptized her. He later served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also served as a Bishop and in other leadership callings.

Jean Saubert earned a master’s degree at BYU, taught physical education and worked as a ski instructor for several years. She won two medals – the silver and the bronze – in the 1964 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized by her friend and coach, Marvin Melville. Saubert was  inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. She was also chosen to be one of the torchbearers for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. She died in 2007.

As a 17-year-old from Chicago, Barbara Day Lockhart was the first woman on the first U.S. speedskating team in the history of the Winter Games. She competed in the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California and the 194 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Although she won the first race in the first Olympic trials for women speedskaters in 1959, she did not win any Olympic medals. She later became a professor at Brigham Young University and served on the General Relief Society Board.

Fred Etcher played hockey for the Whitby Dunlops team that represented Canada in the 1960 Winter Games in Sqaw Valley, California. His team won the silver medal after falling to the U.S. team, 2-1, in the gold medal game. He was the leading scorer in the Olympic tournament with 12 goals. He also recorded nine assists for 21 points in just seven games. Fetcher later served as a Bishop for an LDS ward in Ontario.

These are but a handful of the men and women who pursued their dream to compete in the Olympic Games. Some took home medals, some did not. Regardless of whether they won or lost in their perspective events, all were blessed to step upon one of the grandest stages in life – they all were participants in the greatest games on earth – the Olympics, and with that, they all were able to return home with their heads held high – champions all.


Mormons in Olympic history

Additional Resources:

Mormon Olympians

Basic Mormon Beliefs and Real Mormons

Jesus Christ in Mormonism


Copyright © 2023 Mormon Olympians . All Rights Reserved.
This website is not owned by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon or LDS Church). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. The views expressed by individual users are the responsibility of those users and do not necessarily represent the position of the Church. For the official Church websites, please visit churchofjesuschrist.org or comeuntochrist.org.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This