Touring Torino: LDS Olympians Make a Good Showing at Games

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“Touring Torino: LDS Olympians Make a Good Showing at Games,” Liahona, July 2006, N4–N6

Touring Torino: LDS Olympians Make a Good Showing at Games

The Church was well represented by Latter-day Saint athletes at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games—even on the podium.

From countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, the United States, and Venezuela, member athletes could be found competing in nearly half of the events sanctioned by the Games. Members both young and old pushed themselves to their limits and lived out their dreams on the world stage.

Shauna Rohbock, representing the United States of America, took home a silver medal in the women’s two-man bobsledding competition with a final run of 57.71 seconds. The 28-year-old Orem, Utah, native took up bobsledding after playing soccer and running track at Brigham Young University for four years. She was a two-time All-American in both sports. It was her first Olympic Games, having been bumped from competition in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics due to a hamstring injury.

However, she had much more experience than another first-time Olympic bobsledder, David Bissett, a member from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

David’s first ride in a bobsled was just three months before the Games, because he was still playing running back for the University of Alberta’s football team while the Canadian bobsled team was preparing for international competition.

“They were ready to leave for Europe, and he still hadn’t been in a bobsled,” said David’s father, Ron Bissett. And yet David’s start times were the third and fourth fastest at the Games. He placed 11th overall.

Watching from home, his parents couldn’t believe he was really there. During the opening ceremonies they talked to David on the cell phone while watching him enter the Olympic stadium on TV.

“He waved to us while he was talking to us,” said Kim Bissett, David’s mother. “We almost tried to wave back!” They are excited, as he plans to compete in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which will be closer to home.

It was also the first Olympic experience for Steve Nyman, a member from Orem, Utah, who returned home astonished at the volunteer work he saw in Torino.

“I thought, ‘Wow, there are so many people here for us,’” he said. “They were there doing everything they could to make us happy. It was humbling.”

In his first year competing at this level, Steve placed 19th in the downhill and 43rd in the super-G, celebrating his 24th birthday on the hill the day of the downhill competition.

“I made some big mistakes, but just to get to the bottom and see my name up there on the sign—it said ‘Happy Birthday’ and people were singing—was great,” Steve said.

Family ties in the snow run deep for Torah Bright, a snowboarder from Coomba, Australia, who made her first Olympic appearance at the Games too. Her older brother, Ben, is her snowboarding coach; her older sister, Rowena, competed in alpine skiing at the 2002 Salt Lake Games; and her younger sister, Abi, is an up-and-coming snowboarder. Torah finished just two places shy of a medal in the women’s half-pipe, and she is only 19 years old.

At the older end of athletes, Werner Hoeger, age 52, represented Venezuela in the luge as the oldest male competitor this year. In the 2002 Olympic Winter Games he competed with his then-18-year-old son, Chris, as the first father and son to compete against each other in the same event at the same Games. Finishing 40th in 2002, he improved to 32nd place this year.

The Hoegers are dear friends to a fellow Latter-day Saint Olympic luger, Michelle Despain Carbajal, who represented Argentina in this year’s Games. Werner said he was blessed to have the opportunity to give Michelle a priesthood blessing after she took a perilous spill during her training runs for the Torino Games. Michelle made a remarkable recovery, and though she had trouble in all four of her runs at the Olympic Games, she was still able to compete—and lift others as well.

A fellow luger, Anne Abernathy, noted Michelle’s kindness after she received a gift signed by Michelle and all of the women’s luge racers. “Michelle Despain of Argentina wrote something nice,” Abernathy told the Associated Press. “She wrote, ‘Thank you for your example, Anne.’ It made me feel good.”

Other Latter-day Saint athletes from the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games include Stephanie Wartosch-Kuerten, a goalie for the German women’s hockey team, which finished sixth in the Games, and Joe Pack, a U.S. aerial skiing competitor. Joe placed 15th this year, but earned a silver medal in the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Steve Nyman expressed the general theme of the Games: “It’s an eye-opening experience. You just have to take in the atmosphere and [hope you] make it back in 2010.”

Shauna Rohbock of the United States and her bobsled partner cross the finish line in Torino, earning a silver medal. (Photograph courtesy Church News.)

Werner Hoeger of Venezuela was the oldest male competitor at the Games this year. He took 32nd in the men’s luge. (Photograph courtesy Boise State University.)

Michelle Despain Carbajal of Argentina credits a priesthood blessing with allowing her to compete in the Olympics after a painful crash during training. (Photograph courtesy Rick Despain.)