Saturday, August 23, 2008

America’s Top 10 Olympic Schools

By Andrew Farrell, Aug 21, 8:12 pm EDT

When Michael Phelps edged out Milorad Cavic for the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly, it wasn’t just an American beating a Serbian. It was a Wolverine edging out a Golden Bear.

Phelps attended the University of Michigan. Cavic is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley. Although Cavic spent four years competing for Cal and was born in the U.S., he swims for Serbia, the country his parents left shortly before he was born.

Students from U.S. universities are common in Beijing, with the top 10 schools alone accounting for 317 of the approximately 10,500 athletes competing in this summer’s Olympic Games. UC Berkeley has 41 athletes there, tied for second among American schools. Twenty-five of those athletes are like Cavic and wear the colors of countries other than the U.S. They include Israeli swimmer Guy Barnea and Canadian rower Scott Frandsen.

Auburn University has an even more cosmopolitan contingent. The Alabama sports powerhouse fields 31 affiliated athletes at the Olympics. But just three are competing for the U.S. Twenty-eight compete for other countries. The latter group includes Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who captured three silvers and a gold in Beijing.

How does a school like Auburn end up with so many foreign Olympians? Elite sports programs and scholarships are a powerful lure. Auburn men and women’s swimming teams were both ranked fifth among Division 1 schools during their latest season. The team’s head coach has coached at the Olympics six times and led 12 teams to NCAA titles.

Free world-class training like that is rare in countries like Zimbabwe. Coventry left the country to attend Auburn in 2002 and is still based in the U.S. Meanwhile, her native land has been wracked by out of control inflation, food shortages and political turmoil.

The school with the most athletes at the Beijing Olympics is Stanford with 46 competitors. The school’s biggest contingent comes from its swimming team, which provided eight athletes competing for five different countries. Notable Stanford athletes in the games include swimmer Julia Smit, who won two medals, and volleyball star Logan Tom.

University of California and University of Southern California tie for second with 41 each. USC Trojans have won a gold medal in every Olympics since 1912. Athletes accomplishing the feat this year include Rebecca Soni, a senior who grabbed first in the 200-meter breast stroke with a world record time. Lisa Leslie, the WNBA player who starred at USC in the early 1990s, also could take gold. The U.S. women’s basketball team beat South Korea on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals.

Fourth is the University of Florida. Its swim team furnishes a host of international athletes. Nineteen of their swimmers are competing for 13 countries, including Dara Torres. She started attending the University of Florida in 1985, and Beijing is the 41-year-old’s fifth Olympics. She’s captured three silvers this year. “I’m competitive; I wanted to win a gold but I gave it my best shot,” Torres says.

Go Gators.

1. Stanford University: Slideshow
2. University of Southern California: Slideshow
3. University of California, Berkeley: Slideshow
4. University of Florida: Slideshow
5. UCLA: Slideshow

6 Auburn University

7 University of Arizona

8 University of Texas

9 University of Michigan

10 University of North Carolina

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