Be proud, Utah -- your Games highlighted your friendliness
Mormon influence during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was held to a minimum as promised by church officials.
"Missionaries will not buttonhole potential converts during the Games," said Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church as it is often called.
Approximately 70 percent of Utah's residents are members of the church.
For 17 days the spotlight was on Utah and the Winter Olympics. Media from all over the world covered every aspect of the Winter Games.
Ever since the International Olympic Committee announced that the games would be in Salt Lake City, people have speculated that this would be the Mormon Olympics or Mo-lympics. Utah has much to offer and many beautiful things to see, so why were so many people worried about a religion?
"We're not going to have missionaries on the street," said Mike Otterson, the director of media relations for the Mormon Church. "The church is planning to keep a relatively low profile."
Otterson did report that the church spent time and money on putting new and exciting information and stories on its website and refurnishing its visitor center. By refurnishing the visitor center the church wanted to make a good impression on visitors and answer any questions they might have about the Mormon Church. Among popular questions asked were questions such as what are garments? What is the word of wisdom? Why can't you drink coffee or tea?
Other than the Winter Olympics, the Mormon Church was one of the main topics discussed by the media throughout the Olympics. The church didn't put missionaries out on the streets of SLC to convert people of non-Mormon religion to Mormonism; they simply put them on the streets as volunteers to assist Olympic visitors.
Cherie Hansen, from Little Rock, Ark., said how helpful the missionaries were when asking directions to certain venues. If anyone asked about the Mormon religion, missionaries were there to assist him or her in any way possible.
"Make fun of Mormons" were the orders given to Jean-Sebastien Stehli by his editor. Stehli writes for the French weekly publication, L'Express.
"I expected to meet droves of humorless men with multiple wives and rigid morals," said Stehli. There must be something about the way Mormons dress and the way they comb their hair. Maybe it's something in the water, which makes them stand out from other human beings.
There is more to offer those visiting Utah than the LDS church. Utah has five national parks and access to world-class ski resorts. Even though there were stereotypes about Utah and the Mormon religion, visitors for the most part found that Utah wasn't so bad.
Mormon and non-Mormons alike have watched the Games with pride and shown the world the culture and the history of the people of Utah.
"I found that this was the Mormon games in another way, in a friendly way," said Lawrence Livoti of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "The friendliness, the efficiency, the industry they extended that hospitality."
The Mormons were criticized about their religion and their beliefs. The Mormons as well as all people of Utah showed the world respect, hospitality, and kindness. The Mormons set out to do one thing while the Olympics were here and that was not to convert.
"We held back -- as we said we would, on proselytizing. We made no attempt whatever to create a perception that these were the Mormon games, we did just the opposite, and I think we succeeded in doing that," said President Hinckley.
Most of the media talked about the Mormon Olympics before they came to Salt Lake City, and I am sure they will be talking about them now that they have passed.
"Everyone looked nutty except the Mormons, who looked golden," said Hank Steuver, a writer for The Washington Post.
All Utahns should be proud of what went on here. They should be happy that Utah had an unforgettable ride of a lifetime.
For more information on the Olympics, click here.