Mormon Olympians Are Mostly Women

The Mormon Times web site has information on 18 athletes competing in the current Olympic games who are Latter-day Saints. It is interesting that of the 18, 13 are women (72%). Three of those LDS women are competing in events where women did not compete in the past. There’s a weightlifter, a pole vaulter, and a steeplechase runner; women Olympians first competed in the first two events in the 2000 Sydney games, and women’s steeplechase debuted in Beijing.

So, a large portion of these LDS Olympians are women, and a significant portion of those women compete in sports that have only recently been opened to their participation.

Another interesting thing is the three Mormons on the New Zealand women’s basketball team. Two of them decided not to play on Sundays, and were not available for the team’s final game against the United States. The third Mormon, a sister to one of the two who sat out, chose to play on Sunday with her team.

A few years back, Michael Smith, former professional basketball player, participated in a “Where Are They Now?” interview. He discussed his upbringing missing games on Sunday, and how he leads his family:

That’s the way I’ve instructed my children and taught them so far. They’ve missed volleyball tournaments and soccer games and things of that sort. I think it’s very difficult if you have more than one LDS child on a team and the families don’t believe the same way. It makes it difficult for others to understand how a religion can teach something where one family says, ‘yes’, and the other says, ‘no’.


For a couple months, Michael Smith was my missionary zone leader, but I didn’t meet him in person at that time. He was 400 miles north of my companion and me, so no zone conferences for us. He did send us a couple of friendly letters to keep our spirits up. By the same token, my companion was district leader, and the other two missionaries in our district were 180 miles south of us, so no district meetings either. To top it off, the mission president lived another 400 miles north of the zone leaders. This is probably sounding really nice to many of you; it mostly was.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

13 thoughts on “Mormon Olympians Are Mostly Women

  1. This is the second story I’ve seen recently on Down Under athletes not playing on Sundays. They must have old copies of “Chariots of Fire” somewhere that they play over and over again. But more seriously, I have raised and will continue to raise my kids with no athletic events (practices or games) on Sundays. I’m prepared for the occasional “big game” where they will have to play (ox in the mire situation). But I admire those who try to take the Sabbath seriously in their own way.

  2. Our bishop’s oldest daughter regularly misses church because she plays for her softball team on Sundays, and his wife runs marathons and 10Ks on Sundays. We don’t get strict interpretations on keeping the Sabbath holy from him.

  3. This post makes me think of people like Steve Young and Danny Ainge, both good members of the church who played sports with Sunday games. I wonder if they struggled with the decision to turn pro and play on Sunday?

    I think both men have been good ambassadors for the Church. As a 49er fan, I am thankful that Steve Young chose to play on Sunday. 🙂

  4. I think it’s strange that the church in general tends to praise people like Steve Young, while dismissing the numerous athletes that either gave up careers when joining the church or who decided to not go pro, in order to keep the Sabbath holy.

  5. Chris, I’m not sure what you mean. I have frequently seen clips from the LDS Newsroom about athletes that refuse to play on Sunday. For example, I remember one about a rugby star (did he play for the All Blacks?).

  6. Interesting that the Sunday play issue is what is drawing nearly all the comments. I find the prevalance of women among Mormons at the Olympics fascinating. I suppose it is because for most Olympic competitors, their sport is a serious hobby, and there is more of a place for that in lives of young Mormon women than in the lives of young Mormon men.

  7. Mansfield: are you thinking that missions take young male Mormon athletes away from their sport? It’s a reasonable hypothesis.

  8. BrianJ, more than that, I’m thinking providing for their families, or preparing to, takes male Mormon athletes away from their sports. Like Howard W. Hunter hanging up the clarinet.

  9. Well, that’s an interesting question. My gut reaction is that female athletes would “suffer” (poor word choice, I know) more from the demands of family—primarily because of pregnancy but also due to stereotypical roles (i.e., stay at home mom). I was thinking about this as I watched the Olympics last night: How could a top female athlete possibly have children and remain on top of her game? Some have, and I am totally amazed.

    But I’m willing to hear differently. Why would you think males more than females would be pulled away from sports by their families’ needs?

  10. Well, that 13-5 disparity indicates something is going on. Before noticing that datum, it hadn’t occurred to me that any such thing is happening with sports.

  11. Mormon Eli Herring had an offer to play pro-ball but went into accounting (I think) because he didn’t want to play on the Sabbath. HE is the example I point to when my boys start talking about playing professional sports. I do have a problem with aggrandizing Young and Ainge while ignoring the obvious compromises they had to make.

  12. Eli Herring actually teaches math at my old high school in Orem, UT (Mountain View HS). He turned down the Raiders 1.5 mil. 3 year offer for the starting salary of a Utah teacher at about $25,000 per year. Which I feel further illustrated his faith by sending the message that no amount of money was more important than his belief in the gospel. I do however respect the choices of other Mormon athletes that decided to go pro. I’ve also heard that during Steve Young’s career he always found a church to attend wherever he was playing. I appreciate any athlete pro or not that makes a commitment and an effort to stay faithful to the gospel in whatever way they can in their situation.

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