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It's Back To School Time For Some U.S. Olympians

By Paul D. Bowker | Sept. 04, 2014, 12:12 p.m. (ET)

Erica Wu competes in women's table tennis during the XVI Pan American Games at Code Dome on Oct. 15, 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Friday was travel day, nearly 3,000 miles from California to New Jersey. Saturday was moving day for 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis athlete Erica Wu.

She had the same anxious feeling as any other incoming freshman at Princeton University moving into their first dorm room.

“So far I love it,” Wu said. “The campus is beautiful. Everyone I‘ve met has been so nice. … Everyone here is so smart, so talented.”

Two years have passed since Wu made her Olympic debut at age 16 at the London 2012 Olympic Games. She was one of the youngest members of that U.S. Olympic Team, along with table tennis teammate Lily Zhang, also 16; swimmer Katie Ledecky, then a 15-year-old gold medalist in the women‘s 800-meter freestyle; and gymnast Kyla Ross, who won a team gold medal at age 15.

But on Aug. 30, the beginning of the 2014 Labor Day weekend, Wu was doing the same thing as any other college student: unpacking her belongings in a dorm room, moving clothes around the room, wondering about what clubs to join and who her new friends would be.

On Princeton’s campus in central New Jersey, Wu will have at least one Olympic teammate she can meet between classes for a snack. Ariel Hsing, who competed individually and in the table tennis team tournament in London with Wu, is a sophomore at Princeton.

These are athletes who are not only trying to score high in an athletic competition, but also score high in academic achievement.

Figure skater Polina Edmunds, who was 15 and a sophomore at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, completed school assignments during breaks from athletic competition at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Wu attempted to study for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests at the London Games.

“I actually brought my SAT book to the Olympics, and I never opened it,“ Wu said. “I was supposed to. Every time I was like, ‘I’m going to study now, but you know what, maybe I should go and explore the (athletes’) village today.’ I’m glad I did that.”

Zhang is the only U.S. athlete who competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games and Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. She went straight from China to the start of her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley.

Wu, Hsing and Zhang are just three of the young U.S. Olympians who have since moved on to college. Others, such as Ross, Ledecky and Edmunds, still are in high school.

All along the way, schools have celebrated their Olympians.

Katie Ledecky poses for a picture in her Standford University gear. 

Ledecky returned to Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, in Maryland, and continued to swim for the high school team after her teammates celebrated her gold medal swim in London. This came in addition to a celebratory visit to the White House and being honored at a Washington Capitals’ NHL game.

“I just want to represent my school as well as I can,” Ledecky, now a senior, told the Washington Post. She has since committed to attending Stanford University beginning next fall.

Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals in London and is entering her sophomore year at California, also returned from the London Games to swim for her high school. She was the most popular swimmer in the pool for Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado. She attended the winter formal and senior prom, and she was co-president of a club within the senior class. She graduated in 2013.

Wu remembers doing a table tennis demonstration in front of the student body at the Westridge School for Girls in California.

“I really enjoyed that,” she said. “A lot of people haven’t seen table tennis at the highest level, the competitive level. To be able to show them the sport from this angle was very exciting to me.”

Ross, who won three silver medals at the 2013 World Championships and finished runner-up to Simone Biles in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships, is entering her senior year at Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, California. Her school time is something she looks forward to.

“Going to school is the part of my day when I get to feel like a normal teenager,” she told the Chicago Tribune.

Before Edmunds left for the Olympics in Sochi earlier this year, Archbishop Mitty High School held a send-off party for her. Among those in the crowd were Mitty graduates and U.S. Olympic gold medalists Brandi Chastain and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Snowboarder Arielle Gold went straight from Steamboat Springs High School in Colorado to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and has continued her academics through online educational courses.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Erica Wu

USA Table Tennis
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Katie Ledecky

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Kyla Ross

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Missy Franklin

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Lily Zhang

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