Lonely Planet Writer

The American universities racking up more Olympic medals than many countries at Rio

While the Olympic Games are all about national pride, within the highly-competitive collegiate sports world of the USA, there is an unofficial alma mater medal war happening in Rio de Janeiro as well – and it’s mostly taking place in the pool.

American Universities Olympic medal count boosted by swimmer, Simone Manuel's tally of four
Swimmer, Simone Manuel of the United States her four medals at Rio.

The University of California leads all American universities in the university Olympic medal count with an astonishing 20 medals, including a whopping 12 individual gold medals for the Golden Bears. All but one – Olivier Siegelaar’s Men’s Eight rowing bronze medal for the Netherlands – have come in swimming events.

Stanford University, another California-based juggernaut, is close behind with 19 overall medals, including some of the most high-profile pool performances from swimming superstars Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel (the first African-American to ever medal in an Olympic swimming event) and Maya DiRado, who have each won four medals. Alumni of both universities have a combined medal count that handily surpasses that of the host nation of Brazil, which only has 13 medals thus far.

American Universities Olympic medals was boosted by Maya DiRado who won four
Stanford University’s Maya DiRado.  Image by Getty Images

While Cal and Stanford are no strangers to the Olympic podium, the University of Georgia, a school normally more recognised for its outstanding American football programme and music scene which spawned the likes of R.E.M. and the B-52’s than for Olympic domination, counts an incredible 48 athletes competing in Rio. As of Wednesday, they have raked in 10 medals, including the gold medal dive that sent Bahamian 400m sprinter Shaunae Miller across the finish line rather dramatically this past Monday. With the exception of Miller, all of UGA’s medals have come in the pool as well.

Gold medalist Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas with her medal for the Women's 400m Final
Gold medalist Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas who attended the University of Georgia, with her medal for the Women’s 400m Final.  Image by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Indiana University, which has a long tradition of swimming and diving success in the Olympic Games (the Hoosiers hauled in 16 medals at the 1972 Munich games) have won five medals so far in Rio, including that of high-profile gold medalist Lily King, who not only set an Olympic record with her win in the 100m breaststroke, but caused quite a stir for her very vocal stance against fellow Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova for past positive drug testing and in-pool finger-wagging.

Number one finger-wagging in the pool, it seems, could be an American collegiate sport in itself. There must be something in the water.