Newsmakers: Latter-day Saint Olympians

Numerous Latter-day Saints competed in or assisted with the 26th Summer Olympics held earlier this year in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The following four profiles represent a sampling of Latter-day Saint athletes and participants.

Keeping Faith Afloat

“We smile and seem to enjoy ourselves,” says Olympic synchronized swimmer Emily Porter LeSueur, “but that’s a facade. It’s actually quite difficult.”

Twenty-three-year-old Emily has been swimming for some 12 years. “When I was about 15,” she says, “I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wrote ’1996 gold medalist’ on a three-by-five card and signed my name. The card is still in my journal.”

Emily fulfilled her goal when the United States’ synchronized swimming team won the gold medal at the Atlanta Games. “As in figure skating, synchronized swimming teams do a technical routine and a free routine, both set to music. I participated in our technical routine, which was choreographed to the melody of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ The crowd was very responsive.”

Although the sport traces its origins to water ballet, synchronized swimming has evolved considerably over the years. The 10 U.S. team members trained together for at least eight hours a day over a period of nine months.

“What makes synchronized swimming so difficult,” Emily explains, “is that we can’t touch the bottom of the pool. We have to provide our own stability in the water. When we’re right side up we use leg strength, and when we’re upside down we use arm strength. Plus we’re holding our breath a lot of the time!”

Emily recognizes much spiritual growth from her involvement in synchronized swimming. “I pray for help to make it through the difficult routines, and I have had the opportunity to share the gospel with my teammates and coaches,” she says. “Because national and international competitions have sometimes taken me away from family and Church attendance, I’ve learned to maintain spirituality through reading the scriptures and praying.”

Emily recently moved with her husband, Ben, to the Sunrise Ward, Tucson Arizona Stake, so he could begin medical school at the University of Arizona. She graduated in December 1996 from Arizona State University with a degree in elementary education, and she looks forward to starting a family.

Aiming High

“My most meaningful Olympic memory,” says skeet shooter Bill Roy, “was hearing my daughters shout ‘Go, Dad, you can do it!’” Over the past 10 years, Brother Roy has won more than 40 medals at national and world competitions. As the 1996 Summer Olympics began, he was considered the United States shooting team’s top contender for a gold medal in the skeet competition.

Shouldering a bright-blue 12-gauge shotgun, Brother Roy shot at a total of 125 clay targets over two days. Released at various angles and sometimes two at a time, the “birds” were only four inches wide and one inch high and traveled as fast as 55 miles per hour. Steady rain fell during both days of the match, but Brother Roy performed well, hitting 121 of the 125 targets. Although his ninth-place finish was the highest for the U.S. shooters, he was one target short of making the shoot-off for the final qualifying spot in the Olympic medal competition.

“I’m disappointed I didn’t win a medal,” Brother Roy says, “but I’m proud of my effort and pleased with the final score. I’ve always approached the sport from the standpoint of a journey, not a destination. The journey that got me to the Olympics was a wild and wonderful ride, a phenomenal faith-building experience. I’m honored just to have been there.”

A major in the United States Air Force, Brother Roy has logged more than 1,500 hours as a fighter pilot. He taught English at the Air Force Academy, and in 1991 he was named Armed Forces Athlete of the Year. Members of the Alamogordo Second Ward, Las Cruces New Mexico Stake, he and his wife, Vickie, have five daughters. Brother Roy serves as Young Men president in his ward.

“I want to redirect all the time and effort it takes to be a world-class shooter to working with my own kids and other kids,” he says. “I want to give them the message that if they have a dream, they can accomplish great things.”Reneé Harding, Midland, Michigan

A Guide to the Games

“It is important to make friends and understand people from other parts of the world,” says Tufuga Samuelu Atoa, who managed Western Samoa’s 1996 Olympic team. “For small countries like ours, the most important thing for us regarding the Olympics is to participate.”

The five Western Samoan Olympic athletes, none of whom is a member of the Church, specialized in javelin and discus throwing, boxing, and weight lifting. “I got to know them, and I was a father to them while they were away from home,” Brother Atoa says. “All my Church callings prepared me for this job.”

Brother Atoa received the Western Samoan Order of Merit last year for his lifetime of service, and in 1994 he was honored with a Distinguished Service Award by the Western Samoan Sports Federation and the National Olympic Committee. He has accompanied Western Samoan athletes to other international competitions, and he participated on behalf of his country in the 1996 Olympics planning process. He once served as chairperson of Western Samoa’s Public Service Commission. Today he manages a travel agency.

A member of the Pesega Fifth Ward, Pesega Samoa Stake, Brother Atoa has served as a bishop, high councilor, stake president, regional representative, and temple president. Currently he is a temple worker and Western Samoa’s national public affairs director.

Although the Western Samoans didn’t win any medals, Brother Atoa affirms that “it has been a wonderful thing for us to mingle with people from all over the world.”

Wading through Adversity

The 1996 Atlanta Games did not represent 20-year-old swimmer Kristine Quance’s first attempt to compete in the Olympics. As the trials for the 1992 Olympics approached, Kristine was considered an important contender for the U.S. Olympic team. But then mononucleosis struck, leaving her too weak to compete.

Undaunted, Kristine resumed training with 1996 in mind. Despite painful shoulder injuries, she continued to improve her swimming performance. At the trials for the 1996 Olympic team, she won her best event by eight seconds: the 400-meter medley, which requires the swimmer to be proficient in four different strokes.

But the judges disqualified her victory because of a rare technical violation, and Kristine also missed qualifying in another event, the 200-meter breaststroke, by .13 of a second. The Olympics seemed to be slipping away again. In an attempt to salvage her hopes of making the Olympic team, Kristine entered two races she was not expected to win.

“We never thought, in our wildest dreams, that she would qualify in such tough events,” says Sandy Quance, Kristine’s mother. But Kristine took second place in both races, securing a place on the Olympic team. “She gave it all she had and proved she was a champion,” says Sister Quance. Two weeks after the Olympic trials, Kristine won three events at the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association championships and was named NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year.

At the Atlanta Olympics, Kristine placed 9th and 19th in the two events she had not trained for. However, she was chosen to swim with the 4 x 100 medley relay qualifying team, and she brought home a team gold medal.

“It was a dream come true to be able to represent my country as an Olympian,” Kristine says. “Swimming has taught me a lot about life. Our obstacles and trials can make us better people. I’m more motivated than ever to work toward the Sydney, Australia, Olympics in the year 2000. At the same time, I’ve also learned that as special as the gold medal is, it’s only one measure of who a person is.”

Kristine is an honor student at the University of Southern California. She serves in the Primary presidency of the USC Ward, Los Angeles California Stake.