How Team USA's Collegiate Athletes Left Their Mark In Rio

By Hannah Curley | Sept. 01, 2016, 7:45 p.m. (ET)


As September begins, college campuses come alive with the return of their students. And this fall, some of those students are returning as Olympians.

During the month of August, athletic administrators and faculty across the nation watched as current and former student-athletes traded in their school colors to represent the red, white and blue on the world stage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Of the 558 athletes on Team USA, 439 competed collegiately.

“We are fortunate to have a unique and highly successful sport structure in the United States,” said Sarah Wilhelmi, director of collegiate partnerships at the United States Olympic Committee. “The collegiate landscape provides Olympians and Olympic hopefuls the opportunity to pursue higher education while allowing them to strive for athletic excellence at a peak-performing time in their lives. This system is a win-win for student-athletes, institutions and Team USA.”

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A Games To Remember

In a record-breaking Olympic Games, Team USA brought home 121 medals total. This is the most medals ever won in a non-boycotted Games.

Of the 210 medalists, nearly 85 percent have competed or will compete collegiately.

Team USA had 171 medalists from NCAA Division I institutions, two medalists from NCAA Division II institutions and one medalist from an NCAA Division III institution.


Medalists By Conference

Collegiate representation and medalists spanned well beyond just a handful of conferences. Of the 32 NCAA Division I conferences, 27 had athlete representation on Team USA. This diversity of conference representation was also evident on the podium, as 22 Division I conferences saw athletes earn medals.

The Pac-12 was the most represented and decorated conference, with athletes from its institutions winning 76 medals, including 43 golds. The following chart illustrates the top-five performing conferences.

Athletes who attended Big East institutions made up one-third of the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Both U.S. basketball teams continued their Olympic winning streaks, bringing home their third- and sixth-consecutive Olympic golds, respectively. 


Medalists By Institution

Team USA’s medalists represented 75 institutions. Stanford University athletes brought home the most hardware, earning 26 medals for the U.S. in seven sports. The following chart outlines the top-five performing institutions.


Team Sport Highlights

The U.S. saw success in a number of team sports with strong collegiate ties. The women’s water polo team defended its Olympic title, with 12 collegiate athletes on the 13-player roster.

The U.S. women’s eight won its third-consecutive gold medal, uniting athletes who rowed in six conferences and for eight institutions.

Both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams earned podium finishes. All of these athletes competed collegiately, and more than half competed for Big Ten and Pac-12 institutions.


Individual Sport Highlights

Of the 38 U.S. swimming medalists, 16 attended or will attend Pac-12 institutions. These athletes contributed to the most swimming medals won by Team USA since 2000.

Thirty-nine U.S. track and field athletes climbed the podium in Rio, and 38 were collegiate athletes. Nearly one-third of these athletes competed for SEC institutions.

Georgia Tech’s Matt Kuchar earned a bronze medal in the return of golf to the Olympic Games for the first time in over a century.

Gwen Jorgensen, a multi-sport athlete from the University of Wisconsin, won the first-ever U.S. gold in triathlon.


New Beginnings

Schools and athletic programs across the country will benefit from having U.S. Olympic athletes on their campuses this fall.

While in Rio supporting her student-athletes and the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, Penn State University Athletic Director Sandy Barbour reflected on her school’s participation on Team USA.

“At Penn State, we believe providing the opportunity to be your best, pursue an Olympic Games and ultimately earn a medal is our obligation to our students,” said Barbour. “Our student-athletes are better athletes when they return from national-team participation, and I’d like to think – based on the coaching, training and the competitive opportunities they get year-round on the college level – they are better Olympic athletes for our country.”