Some people are concerned that the upcoming Games will turn into the “Mormon Olympics,” due to the high percentage of Utah residents who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These fears are valid, of course, because this sort of thing has happened before. For example, the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, were nothing more than a proselyting effort for the Buddhists, and you couldn’t throw a rock in Lillehammer in 1994 without hitting an Evangelical Lutheran missionary.
I’m lying about that, of course, but in truth, religion has always played a part in the Olympics. The ancient Greeks were so overjoyed when the IOC announced Athens would be the site of the first Games in 776 B.C. that they immediately threw a bacchanalia in the street to honor whichever of their random, silly gods they felt was responsible for it. (Yes, the Bacchanalia was a Roman festivity. The Greeks were so excited, they invited them over.)
So with religion and the Olympics linked from day one, and with most Utahns being Mormon, it should come as no surprise that the Olympics have a bit of an LDS flavor. But how strong is the Mormon influence? Take a look at some of this year’s events:
– Women’s Downhill Jump to Conclusions
– The Self-Righteous Huff
– Slalom Minivan Driving with Non-Operating Turn Signal
– Freestyle Scrapbooking
– Scripture Chase
– Preparing Lesson During Sacrament Meeting While Also Distributing Cheerios Among Toddlers Biathlon
– Southern Utah County Big Hair Curling.
Again, I exaggerate. Yes, this Olympics will have a Mormon influence. But guess what? There are a lot of Mormons in Utah. Utah and Mormons are inseparably connected. You couldn’t hold an event here without there being SOME manifestation of the predominant culture.
The Mormons say there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Utah’s (read: Mormonism’s) culture. The non-Mormons say they’re tired of the Mormon influence — which, it should be noted, they complain about the rest of the time, too. The Olympics just gives them an international forum in which to do it.
So to the world, I say this: Get a load of us! We are, without apology, who we are. We’re a bunch of Jell-O-eating, church-going, gun-owning, Republican-voting, under-tipping, dollar-movie-attending, Osmond-forgiving, California-hating, Idaho-belittling, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”-watching, in-the-left-lane-slow-driving conservative family types who are proud of our culture and eager to share it with you. In fact, we would love to send a couple representatives of our culture to your house for an informal one-hour discussion of — wait, come back!
This was my first of 15 Olympic columns written Feb. 8-24 -- every day of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games except for the Mondays (so I could more or less have Sundays off). They appeared in a special Olympic section in The Daily Herald, which was wrapped around the main A section for all the world to see.
The Olympic columns were about 25 percent shorter than usual, due to the space configurations. This was fine with me, as a 15-inch column is easier to write than a 20-inch column, at least from a mathematical standpoint.
In this particular one, a few things were slightly altered for publication, solely for the purpose of making it shorter. (I hadn't quite adapted to the shortened column length yet.) The third-to-last paragraph ("Again, I exaggerate") was more or less deleted altogether, and the Mormon Olympic events were crunched into paragraph form, rather than listing them each on a separate line. (Kudos to Luscious Malone, by the way, for coming up with the last two.) I also had another paragraph about Greek gods that I cut out and saved for later.