Athletes Pursue Excellence at Olympics

By Kit Poole

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    Two Latter-day Saints were among medal winners in the 1984 Olympics, but a total of sixteen LDS athletes participated in the games and reaped their own kind of gold from the experience.

    Peter Vidmar, captain of the United States men’s gymnastics team, won gold medals in the pommel horse and team competition, and a silver medal in the all-around competition. Bo Gustafsson, a convert to the Church from Goreborg, Sweden, won a silver medal in Olympic walking.

    In addition, former Brigham Young University baseball star Cory Snyder played on the U.S. demonstration baseball team that placed second (after Japan) in the Olympics. Canadian basketball star Karl Tilleman played on his fourth-place national team, and U.S. steeplechase athlete Henry Marsh placed fourth in his event.

    Other LDS athletes who performed in the Olympics:

    • —Doug Padilla, United States, finished seventh in the 5,000-meter run;

    • —Stefan Fernholm, Sweden, eighth in discus;

    • —Lorna Griffin, United States, ninth in shot put and twelfth in discus;

    • —Walt Zobell, United States, twenty-second in trapshooting;

    • —Pedro Casares, Argentina, eliminated in the first heat in steeplechase;

    • —Mark Fuller, United States, eliminated in the first round of Greco-Roman wrestling;

    • —Silo Havili, Vilami Pulu, and Fime Sani, Tonga, eliminated in the first round of boxing;

    • —Paul Cummings, United States, eliminated before reaching the finals in the 10,000-meter run;

    • —Scott Maxwell, Canada, eliminated before reaching the finals in the baseball exhibition.

    Some of the LDS Olympians said they took home a kind of gold that they could not hang on ribbons around their necks, in the form of knowledge about the help they could expect from God in their righteous endeavors, and about the real spiritual meaning of their achievements.

    Brother Vidmar commented, “I could never have done it without Heavenly Father. I know that he had an important and active role in my success.”

    The gymnast remarked that there is a great selflessness in the team effort. The athletes are working for one another, he said. “To win the team medal was the most exhilarating ‘up’ I have ever experienced.”

    Henry Marsh, a Salt Lake City lawyer, went into the Olympics as holder of the world record in steeplechase. He was the United States’ best hope for the gold in the event, but, fighting the effects of a virus that had plagued him for a month, he came in fourth. Despite that finish, he said he was not disappointed because he had done his best and had received the Lord’s help in doing it. There were many prayers said by him and for him, Brother Marsh recalled, and “those prayers were answered. When I started into the race, I felt the strength come. Win or lose, everyone at the Olympics is a champion,” he said. “Doing your best in life or in athletics is pursuing excellence, and we have to learn to be satisfied with that.”

    Brother Tilleman, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, played guard for his country’s basketball team. The Canadians lost to the United States team, which later won the gold medal.

    “Sure, we hoped we’d go home to Canada with the gold, but we’re the fourth best in the world, and that is something. The high moment was when we beat Italy. No one expected us to win.” Brother Tilleman added that the athletes have a tremendous respect for one another. “You know what they have gone through to get there because you’ve done it. You know about the sacrifice and denial. After a game is over, you find yourself cheering for the team you just lost to.”

    The young Canadian said he felt the prayers of Church members in his behalf helped him. Because of the intensity of the competition, he noted, there was a need to be close to his Heavenly Father. “You need that strength. I took time to read my scriptures and pray on a daily basis. I felt my testimony deepen as the games progressed.”

    Mark Fuller, a Greco-Roman wrestler from Walnut Creek, California, lost to Chinese and Turkish competitors, but he said he gained great insight into the value of the discipline and commitment that is required to become an Olympic athlete. “You understand what sacrifice is about, and what it is to push your body to the limit. You realize that one’s spirit, too, can be pushed beyond its limits.”

    Gymnast Peter Vidmar, one of sixteen LDS athletes known to have participated in the Olympics, won two gold medals and one silver. (Associated Press Photo.)

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    • Kit Poole is Orange County California Multiregion Public Communications Director.