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The Universities That Produce the Most Olympic Athletes

by Jun 4, 20210 comments

One of the main reasons student-athletes make the move to study in the States is because of the wide variety of sporting opportunities available. This, together with a college scholarship, can have a huge impact on the growth of an athlete. It also invites quite an intense competitive atmosphere. The serious student-athlete can leverage these aspects and raise themselves to reach the highest echelons of their respective sport. For most athletes with big ambition, the most attractive options will be the universities that produce Olympic athletes. This is the gold standard in many sports – pun intended – and many spend years working to get to that point.

The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games is one of the world’s oldest sporting events, first held in Greece in the 8th century. The Earth’s most talented athletes gather in the host city for two weeks every four years, and battle it out to win a coveted Olympic medal. Medals aren’t just awarded to the athletes who reach the podium, however. Coaches, managers, and other staff who were part of the Olympian’s success are also recognized for their contributions. 

There are certain colleges that top the medals list after every Olympics. This comes as no surprise, as these schools have some of the best training facilities in the country and on the planet. The combination of world-class facilities, experienced coaches, and well-funded sports programs have produced some of the finest Olympic athletes in history. As a result of these advantages, these stars have been able to cement their names in Olympic history.

Michael Phelps is a prime example. Phelps currently holds both the records for the athlete with the most Olympic medals, and the most gold medals. He has won 28 Olympic medals in his career, which include 2 Bronze, 3 Silver and 23 Gold. He attended the University of Michigan, which ranks 5th on the list of colleges with the most Olympic medals. Let’s take a closer look at each of the top 5 Olympian-producing universities in the USA, in terms of medals won:

  1. USC (University of Southern California) (288 Medals)
  2. Stanford University (280 Medals)
  3. UCLA (University of California – LA) (261 Medals)
  4. UCB (University of California – Berkeley) (183 Medals)
  5. University of Michigan (173 Medals)

University of Southern California

USC’s participation in the Olympics dates back to 1904, when Emil Breitkreutz became the first Trojan to compete in the Olympic Games. Breitkreutz took home a bronze medal in the 800m, marking the beginning of an Olympic legacy that has remained unmatched.

Since then, USC has produced more Olympians, overall medalists, and gold medalists than any other university in the United States.

USC’s star-studded Olympic roster includes 423 Trojans who attended the university before, during, or after their Summer or Winter Olympic appearances. This university’s Olympians have represented 59 countries and participated in 28 different sports. These range from the sports generally associated with USC, such as track and swimming, to more unusual sports, such as team handball, canoeing, and bobsled. All told, USC’s Olympians have won 635 places on Olympic teams, and have taken home 135 gold medals, 88 silver, and 65 bronze.

The first Trojan Olympian, Emil Breitkreutz, travels to St. Louis and wins a bronze in the 800 meter run in 1904.

Stanford University

The Cardinal has produced at least one medalist in every Olympics since 1912. This includes a school-record of 27 medals at the Rio De Janeiro Games in 2016. Stanford representatives have captured 270 overall medals (139 gold, 73 silver, 58 bronze) since 1912, and there is no sign of stopping. Stanford has seen some of the most high-profile American Olympians of recent years. To begin with, the Cardinal have perennial medal favourites Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel in the swimming pool. Manuel was a surprise package at Rio 2016, but is ready to deliver again in Tokyo. Meanwhile, beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh has provided a constant stream of awards over the past decade.

University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA sent 56 athletes to the 2004 Athens Olympic games, more than any other university in the country at the time. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Bruins won 15 medals, including 4 gold, 9 silver, and 2 bronze. This proud history in sports shines through at college-level national championships as well. The Bruins have won a total of 129 national championships, more than any other university outside of Stanford. As a result, UCLA’s strong team sports give them a lift here as well. Longtime head coach of the US women’s water polo team Adam Krikorian and US women’s national soccer team coach Jill Ellis are both counted in the Bruins’ impressive medal haul. As you might expect, UCLA has also seen some top basketball stars at the Olympics. Former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook won a gold medal for UCLA’s tally alongside Kevin Love in 2012.

UCLA Student-athlete and 1960 gold medalist, Rafer Johnson, carries the torch on its final leg for the 1984 Olympics opening ceremony

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s long tradition of Olympic success dates back to the 1920 Antwerp games. It was there that the U.S. Olympic Rugby team – which included six Cal athletes — captured the university’s first gold in a shocking 8-0 upset over France. At the more recent 2016 Summer Olympics, Berkeley athletes brought home 21 medals, including 12 golds. In particular, Cal Aquatics dominated Rio de Janeiro, hauling in swimming, water polo, and rowing medals. As one would think, this has been a strong tradition for Cal, as swimmers Matt Biondi, Natalie Coughlin, and Missy Franklin have all donned gold in the pool in their college careers.

Over the past nine decades, more than 350 Golden Bears have amassed 207 Olympic medals. As a result, Cal’s all-time medal count sits at 103 gold, 47 silver, and 33 bronze.

The 1920 U.S. Olympic Rugby team poses on board the SS Sherman on the way to Antwerp

University of Michigan

From the second modern Olympic Games – held in Paris in 1900 – to the 2018 games in PyeongChang, the University of Michigan has made its mark in Olympic competition. Including the 2018 games, the University of Michigan has produced 205 Olympic athletes, representing the US and 30 other countries. A total of 68 individual athletes have qualified for multiple Olympic games: one athlete has participated in six Olympics, one has been to five games, four athletes have qualified for four, 16 have made three appearances, and 49 have been two-time Olympians. Together, they have won 173 medals: 81 gold, 43 silver, and 49 bronze. Michigan has had medal winners in every Summer Olympics except 1896, and gold medalists in all but four of the summer editions. 

It goes without saying that the collegiate athletic platform presents you, the student-athlete, with some remarkable opportunities to improve your athletic ability and compete on some of the world’s most prestigious stages. Who knows? We might just see you on the podium at the next Olympic Games!

Remember, it’s always the perfect time to begin your journey towards studying at the university of your dreams. Sign up here for a free consultation with one of our recruitment experts. You could join over 300 student-athletes already placed in the USA, competing at the highest level and earning a world-class degree!

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