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College Sports, U.S. Olympic Teams Have Long Gone Hand In Hand

By Karen Price | Sept. 26, 2019, 4:06 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) B.J. Bedford, Megan Quann, Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres celebrating after winning gold in the women's 4x100 medley relay final at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Sept. 23, 2000 in Sydney.


When it comes to which colleges have produced the most Olympic athletes over the years, the pendulum swings heavily to California.

Stanford, UCLA and the University of Southern California rank first, second and third, respectively, in turning out U.S. Olympians, with 225 coming from Stanford, 221 coming from UCLA and 174 coming from USC.

  • Rounding out the top 10:
  • University of California, Berkeley, 156
  • Harvard University, 113
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 101
  • University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, 9
  • University of Texas at Austin, 91
  • University of Washington, 90
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, 88

The history of Olympic athletes coming from a collegiate background dates back to the first Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, and through 2018 upwards of 8,000 U.S. Olympians are affiliated with a college.

Certain schools, however, just seem to produce Olympian after Olympian. Such as Stanford.

“Our student-athletes benefit from direct access to world-class coaches with Olympic experience,” Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir told TeamUSA.org. “Additionally, our state-of-the-art facilities and dedicated support system put them in a position to take the next step in their journey to compete internationally.”

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Among the Olympic highlights for the Cardinal:

  • Of Stanford’s 225 Olympic athletes, swimmer Jenny Thompson has the most medals with 12. Of course that’s also tied for the most Olympic medals of any female swimmer in history, with her eight golds, three silvers and one bronze won over four trips to the Games (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004).
  • Four-time Olympic champion swimmer John Hencken is next on the Stanford list with six medals.
  • Also impressive is the fact that Stanford has produced at least one Olympic medalist in every Games in which the U.S. has competed since 1912. The Olympic Games Rio 2016 saw a school-record 27 medals.

“Competing in the Olympic Games is a dream for many of our student-athletes, who consistently prioritize hard work, aspire to represent their country and often train year-round to seize such an opportunity,” Muir said. “The entire Stanford community looks forward to watching our student-athletes compete at the highest level internationally among the best in the world and takes great pride in their achievements.”

Stanford and Texas are tied for the lead in swimmers, with the Cardinal and the Longhorns each turning out 49 Olympic swimmers. Southern Cal isn’t far behind with 47, Cal-Berkeley follows with 34 and Michigan is behind them with 33.

UCLA and USC are neck-and-neck in producing Olympic track and field athletes. UCLA has a slight edge with 59 to Southern Cal’s 58, and Oregon isn’t far off with 50.

Included among UCLA’s 221 Olympians are some of the biggest names ever to compete in their respective sports, including volleyball star and three-time gold medalist Karch Kiraly, now coach of the U.S. women’s volleyball team; three-time Olympic gold medalist and softball great Lisa Fernandez; and track and field icons Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith-Joyner, who between them have won nine Olympic medals, six of them gold.

More than half of Minnesota’s Olympic athletes played ice hockey — 64, to be exact. Wisconsin, Boston College and Harvard are all tied for the second-most Olympic ice hockey players produced with 26, while Boston University is just a smidgen behind at 24.

The bulk of Washington’s Olympians have been in rowing. Of their 90 athletes, 59 were rowers. The Huskies are followed by Harvard with 55 and Cal with 43 rowers.

While the Division I powerhouses have understandably produced the most Olympic athletes, others have come from much smaller programs, or have found athletic success without playing on the NCAA varsity level.

For instance, John Shuster, who skipped the U.S. men’s curling team to a historic Olympic gold medal in 2018, attended Hibbing Community College in Minnesota, in addition to the University of Minnesota Duluth. Five-time Olympic long track speedskater Shani Davis went to Division II Northern Michigan, which has turned out a number of Olympic speedskaters in addition to biathletes, Greco-Roman wrestlers, boxers and other athletes. And Division III Massachusetts Institute of Technology has produced athletes in rowing, cycling, fencing, rifle, sailing, skeleton, skiing, speedskating, swimming, taekwondo, track and field, and wrestling, with 10 of their athletes winning medals between 1896 and 2008.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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