First played in Greece in the 8th century BCE and relaunched for modern audiences in 1896, the Olympic Games are one of the world’s oldest and proudest athletic traditions. Every two years, the world’s most talented athletes — and their fans — travel to the designated Olympic host city for two weeks of intense competition. At the end of each event, top performers are awarded the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals for earning first, second, and third place, respectively. Medals are also awarded to coaches, managers, and other administrative staff of Olympic athletes who reach the final podium. American swimmer Michael Phelps currently holds the all-time record for most Olympic medals at 28, including five golds and one silver that he earned during the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro.
Historically, certain colleges and universities have produced a disproportionate number of Olympic medalists. This is not a coincidence: schools with large athletic programs, state-of-the-art training facilities, and premier coaches naturally attract budding Olympic athletes. Notably, the colleges and universities with the highest medal counts tend to produce most of their Olympic athletes in the sports that award the most medals: swimming, diving, and track and field. Our list below highlights the 10 most dominant U.S. schools in the history of the modern Olympic games.
University of Southern California
Total medals: 288 (135 gold, 88 silver, 65 bronze)
The University of Southern California is the most dominant U.S. university in Olympics history, with more total medals and gold medals than any other school. If the school was an independent country, its 288 medals would rank 16th all-time in the world. USC is particularly strong in summer events like swimming and track and field. Fittingly, a USC athlete has earned at least one gold medal in every Summer Olympics since the 1912 Stockholm games.
In all, USC students and alumni amassed a total of 21 medals at the Rio games, tying with UC-Berkeley for second place among U.S. colleges and universities. One of today’s most prominent Olympic athletes is USC alum Allyson Felix, who collected two gold medals and one silver at the Rio games to become the most decorated female track and field athlete in U.S. Olympic history. Former Trojan Katinka Hosszu (representing Hungary) has also fared well in Rio, earning three golds and one silver in swimming events. Additionally, six USC alumni have been inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. Louis Zamperini, a runner-turned-pilot whose experiences as a POW were chronicled in the book Unbroken and its subsequent film adaptation, is another famous Olympian with Trojan roots.
Total medals: 280
Stanford has won just eight fewer medals than USC. The Palo Alto institution boasts an impressive Olympic legacy filled with landmark achievements and important benchmarks, especially in swimming, diving, and track and field. At the Antwerp games in 1920, Morris Kirksey earned gold medals in both rugby and track and field, becoming the first Olympian to earn top honors in two different events. Stanford diver Al White became the first person to win gold medals in springboard and platform diving in 1924, and eight years later another Cardinal, Pete DesJardin, matched the record. In 1988 and 1992, phenom swimmer Janet Evans won four gold medals and shattered several records in the process.
Stanford’s dominance in the Summer Olympics has continued in 2016, with 31 current and former athletes competing in Rio. Katie Ledecky was Stanford’s top performer: the incredibly fast swimmer won four gold medals and one silver. Another notable Stanford swimmer, Simone Manuel, became the first African-American woman to earn an individual gold medal after winning the 100m freestyle; she earned a total of four medals in Rio, two gold and two silver. Two more Stanford swimmers earned medals in the 2016 games: Maya DiRado (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) and Lia Neal (1 silver). Outside the pool, Stanford Olympians also earned medals at the Rio games in events like fencing, rowing, and men’s volleyball. Stanford managed to collect the top medal count among all U.S. colleges and universities in 2016 with a total of 27 medals, including 14 golds (another 2016 record).
University of California in Los Angeles
Total medals: 224 (117 gold, 53 silver, 54 bronze)
Arguably the two greatest female track and field athletes in modern history competed on behalf of UCLA. The late Florence Joyner-Griffith (Flo-Jo) earned five medals over the course of her Olympic running career, including three gold medal finishes at the 1988 Seoul games; her records in the 100m and 200m races remain unbroken to this day. Jackie Joyner-Kersee also represented UCLA in Seoul, earning gold in the heptathlon and accruing a record 7,291 points. Male athletes from UCLA have also made their mark on the Olympic games. In 1984, Mitch Gaylord became the first U.S. gymnast to earn a perfect 10 score. Karch Kiraly won gold in volleyball events at three different Olympic Games. The school’s Olympic record also extends to the winter games; Michelle Kwan, the most decorated female figure skater in Olympic history, studied American literature at UCLA.
A total of 36 UCLA students and alumni competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics. At 41, Eritrean-born long-distance runner Meb Keflezighi became one of the oldest people to compete in the Olympic marathon (his third since 2004). Another UCLA veteran is tennis player Marcin Matkowski, who made his fourth Olympic appearance. UCLA earned a total of nine medals at the Rio games. The school’s six gold medals all went to members of the women’s water polo team. Other medalists repping UCLA in 2016 include: gymnast Madison Kocian, who nabbed one gold and one silver; Jessie Fleming, who picked up a bronze as a member of Canada’s women’s soccer team; and Karsta Lowe, a member of the bronze-winning U.S. women’s volleyball team.
University of California - Berkeley
Total medals: 185 (105 gold, 47 silver, 33 bronze)
In the past four Olympic Games, Berkeley has picked up 76 total medals — an average of 19 per year. Additionally, the school recorded the most individual gold medals (15) at the 2012 London games and picked up 13 in Rio, just one shy of Stanford’s first-place gold medal count. The school has distinguished itself as a leader in Olympic swimming. The most decorated Golden Bear swimmer is Matt Biondi, who picked up five gold medals in the 1988 Seoul games and a total of 12 between 1984 and 1992. Another notable Berkeley swimmer is Natalie Coughlin, who earned 12 medals between 2004 and 2012, including six in the 2008 Beijing games. Additionally, two Cal swimmers scored multiple gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics: Missy Franklin picked up four (along with one bronze) and Dana Vollmer earned three.
Cal swimmers have been prominent in Rio, as well. Swimmer Ryan Murphy picked up three gold medals at the 2016 games, and two other male swimmers — Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin — won two gold medals apiece. In the women’s swimming category, top Rio performers include Missy Franklin with one gold, Kathleen Baker with one gold and one silver, and Abbey Weitzeil with one gold and one silver. The only non-swimming medal awarded to a Cal athlete went to Olivier Siegelaar, who picked up a bronze as part of the Dutch crew team. Cal athletes and alumni earned a total of 21 medals in Rio, tying with USC at second place among all U.S. schools.
University of Michigan
Total medals: 134 (62 gold, 37 silver, 35 bronze)
Michigan can thank Michael Phelps for their fifth-place ranking on our list; the swimming phenom has contributed 28 medals to the school’s total count, including six (five gold, one silver) of Michigan’s eight medals in Rio. However, he’s not the only notable Wolverine swimmer in Olympic history. Brazil’s Gustavo Borges, one of his country’s most decorated Olympians, earned two silver and two bronze medals between 1992 and 2000. Tom Dolan, a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, earned back-to-back golds in the 400m individual medley in 1996 and 2000. And fellow hall-of-famer Carl Robie earned a gold and a silver for the butterfly during the 1960s. Other notable Olympians from UM include Olympic Hall of Fame diver Micki King and Steve Fraser, the first American to earn an Olympic medal in Greco-Roman wrestling.
In addition to Phelps, three other Wolverines picked up medals in Rio. Fellow swimmer Connor Jaeger nabbed a silver medal in the men’s 1500m freestyle, Amanda Elmore earned gold as part of the eight-woman (coxed eight) U.S. rowing team, and Sheila Zidorsky earned bronze on the Canadian women’s soccer team. In all, 25 Michigan students and alumni participated in the 2016 games, across 11 different sports. Additionally, three Olympic coaches hail from Ann Arbor: Bob Bowman, the men’s swimming head coach; Mike Bottom, the men’s swimming assistant coach; and Bruce Gemmell, the women’s swimming head coach.
University of Texas
Total medals: 130 (73 gold, 37 silver, 20 bronze)
Of the 130 medals earned by athletes from the University of Texas, 56.1% of them have been gold; of the schools in our top 10 ranking, only Berkeley boasts a higher gold medal percentage. Three UT men’s swimmers have earned gold medals at three consecutive Olympics: Ian Crocker (2000-08), Gary Hall J. (1996-2004), and Brendan Hansen (2004-12). The school’s most decorated female swimmer, Jill Sterkel, picked up two golds and two bronzes between 1976 and 1988. Texas swimmers and divers have amassed a total of 42 gold medals. In track and field, the school’s most decorated athlete is Sanya Richards-Ross, who earned four golds and one bronze between 2004 and 2012. The school has also produced six basketball players — three men and three women — who went on to earn gold as part of Team USA.
The University of Texas sent 25 athletes and coaches to the 2016 Rio games, and the school’s representatives ultimately picked up 13 gold medals. Five of the medalists — Jimmy Feigen, Townley Haas, Jack Conger, Clark Smith, and Joseph Schooling — earned the top prize in swimming events; Schooling also set an Olympic record in the men’s 100m butterfly. Michelle Carter, nabbed a gold in women’s shot put and broke the U.S. record with a throw of 20.68 meters, while male shot-putter Ryan Crouser broke the Olympic record with a throw of 22.52 meters. The two other track athletes from UT who picked up gold in Rio, Courtney Okolo and Marolake Akinosun, competed together in the 4x100m relay. Finally, basketball player and Longhorn alum Kevin Durant led Team USA to the gold with a game-high 30 points in the championship match against Serbia.
University of Florida
Total medals: 108 (50 gold, 28 silver, 30 bronze)
The University of Florida’s peak Olympic performance came during the 1984 Los Angeles games, when Gator alums picked up 14 gold, five silver, and two bronze medals. The university’s most decorated athlete is swimmer Dara Torres. She not only represented the U.S. in five different Olympic games (1984-92, 2000 and 2008), but also managed to earn medals at all five venues, including four gold medals. Of UF’s top 10 Olympic medal winners, eight were swimmers. The other two are Heather Mitts, who earned three gold medals as a defender on the U.S. women’s soccer team, and Dennis Mitchell, whose three medals include a gold in the 4x100m relay at the 1992 Barcelona games.
At the 2016 Rio games, 32 athletes from the University of Florida represented 17 different countries. Two UF men’s swimmers, Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, picked up gold medals in the 4x200m freestyle relay; Dwyer also earned a bronze in the individual 200m freestyle event. Another prominent Gator swimmer in Rio was Caeleb Dressel, who picked up gold medals in the 4x100m medley relay and 4x100m freestyle relay events. UF athletes also dominated the men’s triple jump, with Christian Taylor taking gold and Will Claye earning a silver medal.
Total medals: 108 (46 gold, 41 silver, 21 bronze)
Unlike other schools on this list, many of Harvard’s most notable Olympic achievements have come during the winter games. Between 1896 and 2010, Crimson alumni earned 13 gold, 11 silver, and six bronze as part of the U.S. ice hockey team. The school has also produced several prominent figure skaters, including two-time singles gold medalist Dick Button (1948-52) and two-time women’s singles medalist Tenley Albright (1952-56). Harvard students have also excelled on the water. Accomplishments in these fields since 1938 include nine gold medals in yachting, one gold and 12 silver in rowing, and one gold in sailing.
Harvard’s reputation as a development factory for Olympic rowers continues to this day. The university sent three heavyweight men’s rowers, two lightweight men’s rowers, and two women’s heavyweight rowers to Rio. Women’s rowing coach Liz Soutter and men’s rowing coach Gregg Stone also hail from Cambridge, as well. Other Harvard athletes competing in 2016 include fencer Eli Dershwitz, shot-putter Nikki Okwelogu, and rugby player Cheta Emba. However, the university’s students failed to capture a single medal during the Rio Olympics.
Total medals: 104 (50 gold, 25 silver, 29 bronze)
Yale’s Olympic achievements extend across a range of categories and events. Arguably the most accomplished Yale Olympian, equestrian team member William Steinkraus, performed in six consecutive Olympics (1952-72) and became the first American to win an individual gold medal for jumping in 1968. Another famous Olympian who attended Yale was Eddie Egan, who won a gold medal in boxing at the 1924 Antwerp games and famously switched sports to bobsledding for the 1932 games in Lake Placid. Don Schollander became the first swimmer to nab four gold medals at the same Olympics in 1968; he also won three in 1964 for a lifetime total of seven. More famous for his work in pediatrics, Benjamin Spock also nabbed a gold medal as part of Yale’s crew team in 1924.
Eight Yale students and alumni competed in the 2016 Rio games, with six taking part in boating events. Thomas Barrows, Charlie Cole, and Tom Dethlefs held spots on the U.S. men’s rowing team, while Ashley Brzozowicz represented Canada in women’s rowing, and Stu McNay and Joseph Morris competed on the U.S. sailing team. Brazilian fencer Katherine Miller and sprinter Kate Grace round out the list of 2016 Bulldog Olympians.
Ohio State University
Total medals: 100 (44 gold, 35 silver, 21 bronze)
Of the 44 gold medals amassed by Ohio State athletes since 1904, half came in swimming, diving, or track and field. Runner Jesse Owens is the most famous Buckeye in Olympics history. Owens earned four gold medals in 1936, becoming the most decorated athlete at the Berlin games. The school’s other notable track stars include Malvin Whitfield, who nabbed three gold, one silver, and one bronze from 1948 to 1952, and Glenn Ashby Davis, who picked up three gold medals between 1956 and 1960. The school’s most decorated swimmer, Ford Konno, earned two gold and two silver between 1952 and 1956. Another Buckeye, Bill Smith, won two gold medals at the 1948 Olympics in the 400m freestyle and the 800m freestyle relay events. Other OSU students and alumni have earned gold medals in categories such as basketball, boxing, gymnastics, ice hockey, volleyball, weightlifting, and wrestling.
A dozen Buckeyes represented eight different countries in the 2016 Summer Olympics. The list of competitors included three fencers: Canada’s Eleanor Harvey, USA’s Jason Pryor, and Lebanon’s Mona Shaito. Three female rowers — Aina Cid Centelles of Spain, Ilse Paulis of the Netherlands, and Elodie Ravera-Scaramozzino of France — also competed.
Although they did not crack the top 10 all-time list, the following colleges and universities recorded impressive medal counts during the 2016 Rio games:
- University of Georgia: 9 medals (4 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze)
- University of Indiana: 7 medals (4 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
- West Virginia University: 3 medals (3 gold)
- University of Washington: 3 medals (2 gold, 1 silver)