- Polina Marinova is the founder of The Profile, a newsletter that profiles successful people and companies.
- The following is a recent The Profile post, republished here with permission.
- In it, she breaks down the top 10 US colleges that are sending the most alumni and athletes to the 2020 Olympics.
In March of 2020, Brooke Forde packed up and left campus as Stanford University and colleges around the nation paused in-person classes due to a global pandemic.
Then, she found out something else was being put on hold: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Forde, a student at Stanford, had also been a first-time Olympic hopeful. The last few months have served as a stress test for the 22-year-old swimmer, whose road to Tokyo has anything but straightforward. She overcame two COVID-19 scares, a mid-meet panic attack, and a nerve-wracking Olympic Trials experience.
Despite it all, she ultimately secured a spot on Team USA at the Olympic Games and got to say: “I’m Brooke Forde, and I’m a Tokyo Olympian.”
Joining her in Tokyo will be 31 other current and former Stanford athletes – among them swimmers Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Torri Huske, and Regan Smith.
Stanford students and alumni will participate in swimming, water polo, sailing, rowing, volleyball, gymnastics, cycling, soccer, fencing, and track & field this year, according to information provided to The Profile by the US Olympic Committee.
The university has produced at least one medalist in every Olympics in which the US has competed since 1912, including a school-record 27 medals in 2016.
More than 75% of the 2020 US Olympic team competed in collegiate athletics at the varsity and club levels.
Here are the 10 US colleges that will be best-represented at the Olympic Games:
(Note: This list includes athletes who have already finished their collegiate careers, those currently competing, and incomers who have signed National Letters of Intent. If an athlete competed at two different schools, they have been counted at the school they have most recently attended.)
10. University of Notre Dame
Number of athletes: 10
Events: Fencing, basketball, and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Mariel Zagunis, a Notre Dame alumna, is the most decorated US fencer of all time. A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Zagunis will embark on her fifth consecutive trip to the Olympics this year.
“I’ve done a lot for my sport already,” she said. “I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody except to myself that I’m still a good fencer and I’m capable of beating the best in the world and becoming Olympic champion once again.”
9. Penn State University
Number of athletes: 10
Events: Soccer, fencing, wrestling, volleyball, rugby, track & field
Athlete Spotlight: When she was growing up, Alyssa Naeher had dreams of making it to the WNBA.
“If I’m being honest, basketball was my first love,” said Naeher, an ’09 Penn State graduate. “I wanted to play basketball at UConn. We obviously didn’t really have a [pro women’s soccer league] of our own yet.”
Today, Naeher has channeled that same passion into become a confident and record-setting goalkeeper for the Chicago Red Stars and United States Women’s National Soccer Team. “The only thing I can control is my effort on the field – working hard, keeping my head down, being there, pushing myself, pushing my teammates, and trying to get better,” she said.
8. University of Oregon
Number of athletes: 11
Events: Softball, baseball, and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Freshman Micah Williams is University of Oregon’s star sprinter. He has already won a national indoor championship after tying a school record with a 60-meter time of 6.49 seconds. Williams and fellow Olympian Cravon Gillespie became the first Oregon men’s sprinters in program history to make the US Olympic team.
7. University of Florida
Number of athletes: 14
Events: Softball, basketball, swimming, baseball, and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Caeleb Dressel has been called “swimming’s reluctant star” for a reason. Dressel constantly draws comparisons to legendary Olympian Michael Phelps, and he couldn’t be less interested in external expectations or comparisons.
“I swim different events than Michael,” he said. “I’m not chasing someone else’s goals. I want to chase my own.”
Dressel, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2018, has claimed 15 world championship medals, 13 of them gold, since 2017, making him one of the biggest stars in swimming. At the Tokyo Olympics, he is a favorite to win six gold medals for Team USA.
6. University of Georgia
Number of athletes: 15
Events: Swimming and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Swimmer Allison Schmitt is an eight-time Olympic medalist with four golds, two silvers, and two bronzes. Schmitt qualified for her fourth Olympics, which puts her at one short of the record for American women’s swimming.
Schmitt, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013, said, “This one is definitely the most emotional, and I think it’s special to be here at 31 [years old] and have everyone in the stands that’s here supporting me … and have been along on this journey the past four years.”
5. University of Southern California
Number of athletes: 16
Events: Water polo, swimming, beach volleyball, volleyball (court), and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Isaiah Jewett may be a track star at USC, but he’s also a student who needs to complete his homework. In June, he qualified for his first Olympic Games after finishing second in the men’s 800-meter run. In his post-race press conference, he revealed that although he was excited, he was also really worried about completing his 10-page paper that was due in just a few hours.
“My legs feel really good. Mentally I’m tired. I need to sleep. I have a 10-page essay due tonight,” he said. “I’m mentally trying to re-focus and get that done because it’s due tonight and my teacher didn’t give me an extension.” He submitted his paper at 11:50 p.m. that night.
4. University of California, Berkeley
Number of athletes: 16
Events: Swimming, water polo, rowing, soccer, golf, rugby, table tennis, and softball
Athlete Spotlight: Twenty-four-year-old Collin Morikawa has already made history. Earlier this month, he became the first golfer in history to win his debut at two different major events. Additionally, he became the eighth golfer ever to win two majors before turning 25. More so than anything, Morikawa is really charismatic.
Here’s how writer Kyle Porter described him: “He’s clean-cut and buttoned-up. He’s fresh and likable. He has not made any public mistakes nor had to watch himself suffer.” Morikawa is considered one of the top US golfers set to compete at the Olympics. This ’19 Cal graduate is definitely one to watch.
3. University of Texas
Number of athletes: 16
Events: Diving, swimming, rowing, basketball, softball, volleyball (court), and track & field
Athlete Spotlight: Jordan Windle, who is returning for a fifth year at the University of Texas, executed a near perfect dive during the Olympic trials. After three attempts at qualifying for the Olympic Games, Windle’s efforts finally paid off. Windle has a long history of not giving up, though.
Born in Cambodia, Windle was placed in an orphanage about a year after his parents died tragically. Meanwhile, a retired naval officer named Jerry Windle wanted to start a family but struggled to adopt as a single, gay man in the US He read about someone who had adopted a child from Cambodia, and five months later, he found and adopted Jordan, who had been suffering from malnutrition, scabies, intestinal parasites and severe infections. Today, the father-son duo are inseparable.
“I hope that Jordan’s story, our story, inspires people to give children the opportunity to do amazing things,” Jerry said.
Number of athletes: 21
Events: Gymnastics, soccer, softball, baseball, basketball, tennis, volleyball (court), beach volleyball, and water polo
Athlete Spotlight: Jordan Chiles has a lot going on in 2021. She is an incoming freshman at UCLA, and she’s also a first-time Olympian competing alongside teammates including gymnastics legend Simone Biles. Chiles is expected to be a Tokyo breakout star three years after nearly quitting gymnastics.
“I didn’t think the sport wanted me anymore,” she said. “So I went in the opposite direction.” She had lost all confidence and motivation – until she had a talk with Biles. Biles took on the role of Chiles’s big sister, repeating to her these three words: “You belong here.”
1. Stanford University
Number of athletes: 32
Events: Swimming, artistic swimming, water polo, sailing, rowing, beach volleyball, volleyball (court), gymnastics, cycling, soccer, fencing, track & field
Athlete Spotlight: At the 2016 Olympics, Katie Ledecky was an incoming freshman at Stanford University. In 2021, she’s a recent grad with a degree in psychology and a total of six Olympic medals (five gold, one silver). In the last year, the 24-year-old competitive swimmer has done more solo training than ever before. It makes the already unusual run-up to the Tokyo Olympics even more so for the most dominant swimmer on the planet.
“The most important expectations are the ones that I have for myself,” she said. “I do a pretty good job of sticking to those and not seeing what kinds of medal counts or times that people are throwing out about what I could accomplish if everything goes perfectly.”