In the midst of rivalries among Pac-12 schools, Bruins and Wildcat fans came together as fans of Team USA during the 2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Championships in Las Vegas.
Twelve Olympians and former Pac-12 student-athletes sported their red, white and college gear on the court as the U.S. Olympic Committee recognized Pac-12 institutions for their commitment to Olympic sport programming and contributions to Team USA’s success at the Olympic Games.
“Training at Cal was such a key part of all of my success,” said Dana Vollmer, seven-time Olympic swimming medalist and nine-time NCAA champion. “It’s why 10 years later I am still training at Cal.”
The celebration featured a special halftime presentation, with an Olympian from each institution joining his or her college administrator on the court to highlight the success Pac-12 athletes had at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and Pac-12 institutions’ longstanding history of supporting Olympic sport opportunities.
Representing eight sports and spanning nearly five decades of Olympic experience, the 12 athlete representatives, who own a combined 24 Olympic medals and 38 NCAA titles, are:
- University of Arizona: Leah O’Brien-Amico, softball (1996, 2000, 2004)
- Arizona State University: Townsend Saunders, wrestling (1992, 1996)
- University of California, Berkeley: Dana Vollmer, swimming (2004, 2012, 2016)
- University of Colorado: Jenny Simpson, track and field (2008, 2012, 2016)
- University of Oregon: Devon Allen, track and field (2016)
- Oregon State University: Dick Fosbury, track and field (1968)
- Stanford University: Kerri Walsh Jennings, beach volleyball (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)
- University of California, Los Angeles: Samantha Peszek, gymnastics (2008)
- University of Southern California: Bryshon Nellum, track and field (2012)
- University of Utah: Torin Koos, cross-country skiing (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)
- University of Washington: Mary Whipple, rowing (2004, 2008, 2012)
- Washington State University: Bernard Lagat, track and field (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)
Prior to the on-court celebration, Olympians had the opportunity to express gratitude to their administrators and share how their collegiate experience impacted their training and preparation for Team USA in a gathering of Pac-12 Conference and institution administrators, NCAA staff, National Governing Body leadership and USOC staff.
“Washington taught me to win, but more specifically, they taught me to go to the line not afraid to perform,” said Mary Whipple, three-time Olympic medalist and two-time NCAA champion. “It was always about possibilities.”
“It was definitely busy and kept me focused,” said Devon Allen, 2016 Olympian and six-time NCAA champion. “Playing two sports and going from the football season to track and field season, I was always training. Oregon had such great coaches who helped to adjust a plan specific to me.”
The most represented and decorated conference for Team USA at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, 113 athletes represented Pac-12 institutions in competition. Stanford University, the University of California and the University of Southern California were among the top-five performing institutions, with Stanford bringing home the most hardware for the U.S., earning 26 medals in seven sports.
“Stanford not only allowed me to form beautiful relationships, they were my jumping off point for all of the dreams I’ve lived since then and for the rest of the dreams I will continue to live,” said Kerri Walsh Jennings, four-time Olympic medalist and two-time NCAA champion.
With nearly 85 percent of Team USA medalists coming from the collegiate ranks, collegiate athletics is an important pathway for elite success.
“I could have never been a three-time Olympian without the coaching and teammates I had at the University of Arizona,” said O’Brien-Amico, three-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time NCAA champion. “It grew my confidence, courage and goals that I never would have had prior to attending the University of Arizona.”
The Pac-12 recognition event is the latest step the USOC is taking to recognize conferences and institutions for broad-based Olympic sport opportunities on college campuses.
“We are so excited to recognize the Pac-12’s contributions to Team USA and its commitment to Olympic sport programming,” said Sarah Wilhelmi, who was appointed in May 2016 as the USOC’s director of collegiate partnerships. “This is just the beginning of our collaboration with conferences and institutions, and we look forward to seeing this excitement expand across the country.”