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  , 2004

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Wall Street Journal Commentary: The Games Through High-Contrast Glasses

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has received plenty of coverage as part of the Olympics currently being held in Salt Lake City.  The following is a short clip from a longer article written by Frederick Kempe for the Wall Street Journal.  The full-text of the article can be found on the WSJ site:

To some, it will be the Mormon Olympics, for the dominant religion of this Olympics' host state, and all the press attention showered upon it. The pre-game reporting in European newspapers focused on Utah's sordid history of polygamy and martyrdom and its arcane drinking laws. With the torch lit, however, folks saw another side to this quintessentially American religion.

Spectators were wowed by the calm, easy friendliness of the 25,000 volunteers (75,000 had applied to serve), the majority of whom are Mormons. International Olympic Committee officials gave them perfect 6.0 scores, and said their own surveys show Utahns scoring even better than the much-praised Australians in Sydney. And it's harder slushing around for 16 days in winter cold than handing out sunblock in T-shirts and shorts.

One was thanked so often by the volunteers on the way to and from events that one feels as if attendance had been at their personal invitation. The church, which runs the world's most extensive missionary program, showed itself to be a master of the soft-sell. Almost every foreign team had some returned missionaries as their interpreters, drivers and guides; yet according to all reports they didn't talk about their faith unless asked.

"They conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion," says Michael Payne, IOC marketing director. His local driver, a Mormon, spoke of how he'd adopted six Ethiopian children after bringing up six of his own. Another volunteer, a seamstress, did last-minute alterations for Canadian and Australian team uniforms. "We wanted people to know we weren't such a strange people," said Allen Young, a retired psychologist who at age 72 was showing folks to their seats every night at the figure skating center. "Church people like to volunteer. We believe in serving our fellow man."