Rio Hosts Several Mormon Olympians

Contributed By Jason Swenson, Church News staff writer

  • 8 August 2016

Shown competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London is Sarah Robles, a Latter-day Saint who will be a contender in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Robles.

Article Highlights

  • Valerie Adams from New Zealand will be competing in the shot put.
  • Sarah Robles from Texas will be competing in weightlifting.
  • John Nunn from California will be competing in race walking.
  • Taylor Sander, Casey Patterson, and Jake Gibb from California will be competing in volleyball.
  • Jared Ward from Utah will be in the men’s marathon.
  • Lydia Casey Jele from Botswana will run the 400-meter race.
  • MyKayla Skinner from Arizona will be an alternate on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.

A pair of Latter-day Saint athletes may forever redefine the term “strong Mormon women.”

New Zealand’s Valerie Adams has put her prodigious power on display for more than a decade as one of the world’s top female shot putters. The two-time Olympic gold medalist—who was recently married in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple—is hoping to again climb atop the medal podium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Meanwhile, Sarah Robles, an American weightlifter and Church convert who has been called “the strongest woman in America” will attempt to win her first medal at the games.

Several other members—competing in Olympic sports ranging from beach volleyball to the 50-kilometer race walk—will join Valerie and Sarah in Rio.

Valerie Adams, New Zealand, shot put

A four-time world champion, Valerie Adams is one of her country’s most popular athletes. News of her April wedding to Gabriel Price made the cover of New Zealand magazines and grabbed headlines in national newspapers. She frequently posts Sabbath-day photos on Twitter of herself and her husband outside their meetinghouse or enjoying a meal at their home with the missionaries.

“Spiritually fed for another week,” reads the photo caption of one recent tweet following Church services.

The shot putter, who lives in Europe to train and compete, belongs to the Bienne Branch, Lausanne Switzerland Stake. She won Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games and again, four years later, in London.

Sarah Robles, Texas, weightlifting

A three-time national champion, Sarah Robles will be competing in her second Olympics in the women’s over-75kg category. In past media interviews, she has credited her faith for helping her overcome humble circumstances and become one of her country’s most talented weightlifters.

She belongs to the Armand Bayou YSA Branch, League City Texas Stake.

“If I do the lifts I am capable of, I should come home with a medal,” she told the Houston Chronicle. “If not, but I do my absolute best at the highest international stage, how can I complain?”

John Nunn, California, race walking

In 2004, John Nunn told the Church News that he expected the 2004 Summer Games in Athens to be his one and only Olympic experience. “This is not something I want to do for another 10 or 12 years,” he said at the time.

Jared Ward of Provo runs with the lead pack during the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles Saturday, February 13, 2016. Ward took third overall, earning him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Photo by Brian Nicholson.

John Nunn race walks at the qualifying trials for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Photo by Jeff Salvage.

Race walking is apparently difficult to, well, walk away from. John will be making his third Olympic appearance at the 2016 Games after winning the 50-kilometer Olympic Trials race walk in February. A U.S. Army staff sergeant and a returned missionary (Nevada Las Vegas Mission, 1997–1999), John belongs to the Fallbrook 5th Ward, Vista California Stake.

Taylor Sander, Casey Patterson, and Jake Gibb, California, volleyball

Volleyball will have a decidedly LDS flavor in Rio. Three Mormon athletes—Taylor Sander, Casey Patterson, and Jake Gibb—will be competing for Team USA.

Taylor is an outside hitter on the men’s national team. A four-time All-American at Brigham Young University, he plays professionally in Italy. He also helped the American squad win the 2015 World Cup in Japan. This will be his first Olympic Games. He is a member of the Beachside Ward, Huntington Beach California Stake.

Casey and Jake will be partners in the men’s beach volleyball competition. A former setter and opposite hitter at BYU, Casey will be making his Olympic debut in Rio. He belongs to the Seaport Ward, Huntington Beach California Stake.

Jake is a veteran of two Olympics (2008, Beijing; 2012, London) and a cancer survivor. He is part of the Harper Park Ward, Huntington Beach California Stake.

Jared War, Utah, men's marathon

Another BYU/LDS athlete, distance runner Jared Ward, will compete in Rio for the United States in one of the Olympics’ most storied events—the men’s marathon.

A member of the Ponds Park Ward, Kaysville Utah South Stake, Jared ran cross-country and distance events for the Cougars after completing his mission to Pennsylvania in 2009. He claimed the U.S. national marathon championship in 2015. The father of two also teaches statistics at BYU.

Lydia Casey Jele, Botswana, 400-meter race

LDS sprinter Lydia Casey Jele qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games after running a 51.50 qualifying 400-meter race in April. She is reported to be the first woman from Botswana to compete in an Olympic track and field competition.

MyKayla Skinner, Arizona, U.S. women's gymnastics team alternate

Nineteen-year-old MyKayla Skinner is also in Rio as an alternate on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. She finished fourth in the all-around competition in the recent U.S. Olympic Trials.

A member of the Bella Vista Ward, Gilbert Arizona Higley Stake, MyKayla will compete for the University of Utah when she returns from Brazil.