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The Olympian Factory: USC Trojans and Gold Medals

The University of Southern California cranks out more Olympic medal winners than a majority of participating countries. Men's Fitness spoke with USC Athletic Director Pat Haden about what makes Southern Cal the top school for elite young athletes.
USC Athletic Department

When it comes to adding up the total number of Olympians who have attended USC, the results are staggering. Since 1904, 396 Trojan athletes have competed in the Games taking home 123 gold medals. This includes at least one gold in every summer Olympics since 1912—not to mention the 78 silver medals and 61 bronze medals USC alumni have won. If USC competed as its own country, it would rank 17th on the all-time medal list, and those 123 gold medals alone would place it 12th on the all-time gold medal list, according to USC Athletic Director Pat Haden. We’re talking major hardware here. 

“There’s been a long continuum of success here since the 1920s. I think young athletes watch the Olympics and see USC Trojans competing and want to come here." It started in 1904, when USC's first Olympian, Emil Breitkreutz won a bronze medal in the 800-meter run at the St. Louis Olympics. Since then, no American university has sent more athletes to the Olympics than USC’s near 400 total, five of which have been inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. Over the decades, USC’s rep has set the bar high, and pushes it higher every Games. 

USC Olympics

USC’s athletic presence in this year’s Olympics stands at 36 athletes: 12 swimmers, 11 track and field athletes, eight water polo players, two indoor volleyball players, two beach volleyball players and one soccer player, accompanied by seven coaches. 

Athletic talent and competitive academics are a given. So what really makes this school essentially the ultimate factory of Olympic athletes? Location, location, location. With average temps ranging from mid-50s to 60s, Southern California’s climate offers perfect year-round training in nearly all summer Olympic sports. Because of this, the region has one of the largest concentrations of elite athletes in the U.S., with enough in-state talent to help two major universities (USC and the University of California Los Angeles) to rank in NCAA tournaments in most sports.  Southern California also hosted the 1984 Olympics and Olympic fever hasn’t died down since. 

"We have great weather and a great geographic base in terms of recruiting," Haden says. "You add together the climate, a great academic institution like USC [America’s 23rd ranked college by US News & World Report 2011] and Southern California’s love for Olympic sports and you have a perfect trifecta."

USC recruits know they'll train with Olympic-level coaches in Olympic-caliber facilities, or former Olympic facilities. Of course they’re drawn to the school. "If you're a young female swimmer and you know the success that someone like Janet Evans had [four Olympic gold medals], they think, 'I can be the next Janet Evans,’” says Haden. And USC has the facilities to see that potential into a reality. “Our pools and diving arena [The McDonald's Swim Stadium] hosted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic swimming events,” says Haden. “The Galen Center [home to USC basketball and volleyball, built in 2006] is world class." Loker Stadium, home to USC’s track and field team, was also used in the 1984 Olympics as the training track for the USC Olympic Village and warm-up track for the track and field athletes. 

With prime training grounds and a wide pool of talented athletes and coaches, Haden says the USC community takes great pride in its historical Olympic success. Looking ahead to London, Haden predicts success. “We relish it and we follow it and we promote it," Haden says. "We’re going to track all the USC athletes that are competing. We'll watch their events, keep track of times, and then follow the medal count on social media. We’re very proud of our athletes, both current and former."  

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