The only other time the Olympics were held in the world capital of a major religion was in Rome in the summer of 1960, when the Catholic Church took a semi-active role as a host. Pope John XXIII blessed the athletes from every nation in St. Peter's Square and watched the semifinals of the canoe races from a balcony of his summer residence.

The 1996 Atlanta Games also were used as an unofficial vehicle of religious expression, but by a multitude of evangelical Protestant sects. An interfaith group called Quest '96 encouraged evangelism and prayer around the city, as well as providing housing and special assistance for the needy. The Southern Baptist Convention used thousands of volunteers to show visitors around one of the Bible Belt's largest cities.

It is inevitable that many television shots from the Games will include the Salt Lake Temple, said Sandy Baldwin, the United States Olympic Committee president. But that is because "architecturally, it's the most interesting building in town," she said. Baldwin said Mormonism at the 2002 Games "won't be any more noticeable than anybody going to a predominately Catholic country would realize the presence of Catholicism. I don't see any parochial influence at all in these Games."

If anything, Utah is home to a faith that is particularly receptive to of sporting competition, said William Baker, a professor of history at the University of Maine and the author of the book If Christ Came to the Olympics . Mormon Church founder and President Joseph Smith was a strapping, athletic man who enjoyed games and was a champion wrestler, Baker said.

That tradition carries on today in the person of well-known LDS athletes like quarterbacks Steve Young and Ty Detmer, Suns basketball coach Danny Ainge, football coach Andy Reid, football tight end Chad Lewis, skater Barbara Lockhart, outfielder Dale Murphy, wrestler Rulon Gardner and pro-footballer turned actor Merlin Olson. "The Mormons have a long history of affirming the unitary realities of body and soul," Baker said. "Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were big into dancing and hunting and all kinds of sports.

Utah, and by extension the Mormon Church, is guaranteed to get publicity simply because they landed the Games, Baker said. Bribery scandal aside, all the Mormon Church needs to do from this point is present a cheerful face to the outside world, proudly show off the infrastructure of Salt Lake City and let the attention come rushing in, he said. "It will be a net gain for them in terms of publicity, even if it's lukewarm or moderate," he said. "But they are going to have to be very discreet about putting their faith into the Olympics and not beat people over the head with it."