The whole world will be tuned in to watch more than 10,000 athletes go for gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. And although the games will take place thousands of miles away from Utah, a few of these athletes have close-to-home Mormon ties.
1. Maka Unufe : Rugby : U.S.
For the first time since 1924, rugby is returning to the Olympic games — and Provo native Maka Unufe is on the team. After playing football at Provo High, Unufe took some time away from athletics, until rugby came into his life. He launched his career in the sport when he competed with the Utah Warriors in Club 7s Nationals in 2011, and he joined the U.S. national team last year.
2. Jared Ward : Marathon : U.S.
Jared Ward is a full-time runner, but you can also catch him teaching statistics at BYU as an adjunct professor. Ward was a star cross-country runner at both Davis High and BYU but didn’t run his first marathon until 2013. Now, he’s one of three from the U.S. who will run the men’s marathon at the 2016 Olympics.
3. Valerie Adams : Shot Put : New Zealand
Valerie Adams is no stranger to competition — or the Olympic Games. She is a four-time world champion, a three-time world indoor champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. And she’s the first woman to earn four consecutive individual titles at the world track and field championships. She’s also known for winning 56 straight competitions — certainly a force to be reckoned with.
4. Taylor Sander : Volleyball : U.S.
After playing volleyball at BYU, Sander made his debut with the U.S. national team at the 2014 world championship qualifier — and was named best server as the team won the gold medal. In addition to qualifying for the 2016 Games with the U.S. men’s team, Sander plays professionally for BluVolley Verona — a club team in Italy.
5. Tatenda Tsumba : Track and Field : Zimbabwe
OK, so Tatenda Tsumba may not be LDS — but he is a BYU Cougar. Tsumba is a Zimbabwe-born sophomore at the Y and a member of the school’s track and field team. He’ll be competing in the 200-meter sprint in Rio.
6. Sarah Robles : Weightlifting : U.S.
Sarah Robles is an Olympic alum after competing in the 2012 London Games. She’s a California native whose high school shot-putting training included lifting Olympic weights. Just four years after taking up weightlifting competitively, Robles achieved a 265 pound snatch and a 320 pound clean and jerk for a 584 pound total in the 2012 Olympics.
7. John Nunn : Race Walk : U.S.
He’s a member of the U.S. Army. He owns a gourmet cookie business with his young daughter. And he’s a two-time Olympian. John Nunn competed in the London Games and the Athens Games — and now he’s back for a third attempt at race-walking gold.
8. Jake Gibb : Beach Volleyball : U.S.
With a middle name like Spiker, you’d think Gibb had played volleyball all his life. In reality, he didn’t begin playing competitive volleyball until his early 20s, but this marks his third Olympic run. He is the oldest U.S. volleyball player at this year’s Games and is a two-time cancer survivor.
9. Leilani Mitchell : Basketball : Australia
Leilani Mitchell is just 5 feet 5 inches and 138 pounds, but she’s a powerhouse on the basketball court. She’s heading into her seventh season with the WNBA, including four playoff appearances. Mitchell has played professionally in Croatia and France and will represent Australia at the Olympics, where she has dual citizenship with the U.S.
10. Casey Patterson : Beach Volleyball : U.S.
California native Casey Patterson, Jake Gibb’s beach volleyball partner, is a BYU grad and father of three. Patterson has played on international indoor club teams in Puerto Rico and Sweden.
11. Lydia Casey Jele : Track and Field : Botswana
At age 26, Lydia Casey Jele became the first woman from Botswana to qualify for an Olympic track event. Jele will run the 400 meter race.
12. Cody Sanderson : Wrestling Coach : U.S.
Cody Sanderson — brother of famed wrestler Cael Sanderson — will head to Rio, not to compete but to coach. He’s an associate wrestling coach at Penn State and will be in Brazil with Olympic competitor Frank Molinaro. Originally from Heber City, Sanderson created Utah Valley University’s wrestling program and led the team as head coach.
13. Dustin Williams : Head Athletic Trainer for Track and Field : U.S.
Dustin Williams won’t be winning any medals at this year’s Olympics. Instead, he’ll be behind the scenes, spending long days and nights helping athletes prepare to perform. Williams earned his degrees at Ricks College and Utah State University and has worked as a trainer at BYU and the University of Arizona.
14. Mykayla Skinner : Gymnastics (alternate) : U.S.
A Mesa, Arizona, native, Mykayla Skinner became a member of the U.S. senior national team in 2012. In 2014 she won a gold medal with the team and an individual bronze medal in vault at the world championships in China. This year, she will be in Rio as an alternate to the 2016 five-woman Olympic gymnastics team.
15. Jackson Payne : Gymnastics (alternate) : Canada
After a recent two-year gap to serve an LDS mission in Korea, Jackson Payne jumped right back into his promising gymnastics career. He’s since won first place medals in both the all around and parallel bars divisions in back-to-back Canadian championships. And this year he was awarded a spot on the Canadian men’s gymnastics Olympics team as an alternate competitor.