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Dr. Kat’s List: Five Colleges to Go for the Gold

This month, more than 200 nations from around the globe will come together in London for the 30th Summer Olympic Games. The world’s best athletes will compete in more than 400 events in 36 sports with the hopes of bringing home a gold, silver, or bronze medal. In the US, Olympic athletes past, present, and future can be found studying and training on college campuses throughout the country, many of which offer state-of-the-art athletic facilities and expert coaching. Whether you’ve got your eye on the prize or want to cheer from the stands, these five schools will light the torch on your college search.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles has a long tradition of cultivating successful Olympians. Since 1904, 393 Trojans have competed in the Olympic games, taking home 122 gold, 76 silver, and 60 bronze medals – the most of any university in the world! In fact, if USC were its own country, it would have the 12th most medals in the world. Current students competing in London include sophomore Flora Bolonyai and senior Sofia Konoukh (water polo) and sophomore Vladimir Morozov and senior Katinka Hosszú (swimming). Several alumni will also represent USC, including Amy Rodriguez (soccer) and Joel Dennerley (water polo). If preparation is the key to success, USC athletes have a leg up on the competition with access to the school’s impressive athletic facilities. The Galen Center, home to the school’s basketball and volleyball teams; the McDonald’s Swim Stadium, built for the 1984 Olympics; the David S. Marx Tennis Stadium, with oversized courts and an interactive scoreboard; and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a football stadium and site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, are just a few of the incredible resources offered to USC student-athletes.

USC athletes aren’t the only ones with an affinity for gold – at least one USC alumnus has been nominated for an Academy Award every year since the award’s inception in 1929. Other alumni who have risen to the top of their respective fields include Neil Armstrong, Lisa Ling, and Will Ferrell (who graduated with a degree in Sports Information). No matter the field, this private university’s 17,000 undergraduate students are well prepared to excel with a choice of 155 majors, 155 minors and more than 750 student organizations.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Several athletes from the University of Michigan have struck gold – in fact, Wolverines have won gold in all but four Summer Olympics! Since 1900, more than 200 “UMich” athletes and coaches have participated in the games, compiling 138 medals: 65 gold, 35 silver, and 28 bronze. This year, the school will be represented by alum Tom Peszek (rowing), and in the Paralympics by sprinter Jerome Singleton, “the world’s fastest amputee.” Olympic-bound athletes receive top training as members of the school’s 27 varsity athletic teams, many of which are members of the NCAA Division I and the Big Ten Conference. UMich student athletes also have access to state-of-the-art training facilities. The 3,153-acre Ann Arbor campus contains the Newt Loken Training Center for Men’s Gymnastics, the Donald R. Shepherd Training Center for Women’s Gymnastics, the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex, and Michigan Stadium, the largest college football stadium in the nation and the third largest stadium in the world! When not accruing medals, the Wolverines compile national championships. The football team has won 11 national titles and the school has produced championship teams in men’s swimming and diving, men’s ice hockey, men’s gymnastics, baseball, men’s basketball, women’s softball, men’s tennis, and men’s outdoor track and field.

The 27,000 undergraduate students at this public university choose from more than 200 areas of study and 1,400 student organizations. In addition to playing for (and cheering on) the Wolverines, students enjoy the college town of Ann Arbor, 45 minutes from Detroit, which is home to a plethora of social and cultural opportunities. Students can visit the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, popular for its 250 interactive science and technology exhibits, or take in the Ann Arbor Film Festival, a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards.

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Since 1968, nearly 150 Gators from the University of Florida (UF) have competed in the Olympics, representing 34 countries and winning 45 gold, 23 silver, and 23 bronze medals. The school’s athletes and alumni have struck gold in several sports, including track and field, baseball, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and the four-man bobsled. Particularly successful for the Gators were the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where the school’s swimmers won 20 medals, and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona where Nicole Haislett took home three gold medals for the US swim team and UF athletes set two world records. Among the school’s Olympic alumni are Abby Wambach of the US Women’s Soccer Team and Dara Torres, a 12-time medalist who has competed in five Olympic games. The school’s student athletes prepare for global competition as members of the university’s 17 NCAA Division I athletic teams (part of the Southeastern Conference) and more than 60 intramural and club teams. Further, student athletes train in the school’s advanced athletic facilities, such as the Southwest Recreation Center, which features a 15,000 square-ft. cardio room and a 14,000 square-ft. strength and conditioning room, and the Broward Outdoor Recreation Complex, which includes sand volleyball courts and a roller hockey rink.

UF athletes aren’t the only success stories at this large, public university – the school’s 330,000 alumni include two Nobel Prize winners, three NASA astronauts, and the inventor of Gatorade (which was named after the school’s mascot). The school’s 32,000 undergraduate students prepare for greatness with access to more than 100 majors and more than 975 student organizations. The 2,000-acre campus in Gainesville, Florida is also home to The Florida Museum of Natural History, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, and Lake Alice.

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN
Students at the University of Notre Dame (UND) are avid fans of the Fighting Irish, who compete on 26 NCAA Division I athletic teams, including a consistently strong football team, which has sold out 206 consecutive games! The school’s athletic programs have proven successful in preparing athletes for the world stage – nine UND students and alumni competed in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Further, UND was one of only six universities where NBC Universal recruited student interns to help cover the 2008 Olympics. Previously, 10 athletes with UND ties competed at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, including two members of the gold medal winning US Women’s Soccer Team. This summer, the Irish will be well-represented in London, including six former, current, and future UND fencers who are competing for the United States. Even students who aren’t going for the gold can get in on the game – the school offers 48 intramural and 33 club sports and is home to more than 20 athletic facilities, including the 96,000 square-foot Guglielmino Athletics Complex, called “the Gug,” Rolfs Aquatic Center, which features an Olympic-size swimming pool, and the Joyce Center, which covers 10 acres and contains an ice rink, fieldhouse, and basketball courts.

The 8,437 undergraduate students at this private university can’t get enough of the Olympics. Each year, campus residence halls compete in the Late Night Olympics, featuring events such as an obstacle course, inner-tube water polo, and a penny war, with proceeds benefitting the Special Olympics of St. Joseph County. When not competing, undergraduates can choose from 62 degree-programs – from creative writing to theology – in four colleges, as well as 340 student organizations.

Duke University, Durham, NC
To date, more than 30 athletes and coaches from Duke University have participated in the Olympic games. Among those whose perseverance and dedication have brought them athletic accolade are Dave Sime, who played basketball and football at Duke and was once called “the world’s fastest human” by Time, and Grant Hill, who won gold as a member of the US Men’s Basketball Team. Not to be outdone, several Duke coaches have made Olympic history as well. Duke’s Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach and former player Carla Overbeck captained the 1996 Olympic gold medal-winning US Women’s Soccer Team and Duke professor Al Buehler, who served as the head coach of the university’s cross-country program for 45 years, managed three Olympic Track & Field Teams. A former chair of the Physical Education Department, Buehler continues to inspire athletes in his seminar, “History and Issues of Sports.” In addition to top faculty and coaches, Duke student athletes have access to more than 20 NCAA Division I athletics teams and initiatives such as the 1st Year ACTION Program, which focuses on the transition from high school, teamwork, and leadership development in the first year of college.

A private university located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke offers nearly 100 majors to its 6,526 undergraduate students. Majors include Earth and Ocean Sciences, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Program II, a self-designed interdisciplinary program. Beyond the classroom, students choose from more than 400 clubs and organizations, including Hoof ‘n’ Horn, the country’s second oldest student-run musical theatre organization and Mock Trial, which won the 2012 National Championship Tournament.

If you are interested in schools with a strong athletic heritage and opportunities to compete on a global scale, these five schools are great places to start your college search. You might also want to research schools like Auburn University, University of Minnesota, Stanford University, Colorado College, and Dartmouth University. Ultimately, finding the school that is the best fit for you academically, socially, and athletically will be worth its weight in gold!


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