A Look At The Most Recent USA-Trained International Olympic Medalists

World Junior Record holder Matt Sates recently made the trip from South Africa to Athens, Georgia to begin training and racing for the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

He is the most recent man to relocate to the United States to train as he prepares for his next Olympic bid, which will be at Paris 2024.

There is a storied history of swimmers going from their home country to the USA to train in the lead-up to a Games, but in the last decade, only a small few of those who’ve done so have made it onto an individual Olympic podium.

Ous Mellouli is one of the two best examples for Sates. He is the only example who moved to the U.S. as he began college and was still training there when he won his Olympic medal.

He raced for the USC Trojans between 2002 and 2006, placing him in the USA for the majority of his lead-up to winning 1500 freestyle gold at the 2008 Olympics. Mellouli won several NCAA titles during his time at USC and went on to win another pair of medals at London 2012, taking bronze in the 1500 freestyle and a gold in the 10 km marathon.

The other is sprint icon and current world record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil, who moved to the USA to train at and attend Auburn University in 2005. He won the NCAA title in both the 50 and 100 freestyles in 2007 and 2008, meaning that for the 3 years leading up to Beijing 2008 he trained in the USA. In 2008 Cielo won Olympic gold in the 50 freestyle and bronze in the 100 free and returned 4 years later to take bronze in 2012 in the 50 freestyle.

Another man who won medals at NCAA Championships and the Olympics is Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling. Schooling won a pair of NCAA titles for two years in a row when he earned gold in the 100 and 200 butterflies in both 2015 and 2016 for Texas. Months after his 2016 victory he delivered one of the most talked-about swims of the year when he took Olympic gold in the 100 butterfly.

Schooling posted a 50.39 Olympic and Asian record to defeated the likes of Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos, and Laszlo Cseh who all shared the silver medal with a 51.14. Like Cielo, Schooling was training in the USA for the lead-up to his Olympic medal-winning swim, though unlike Cielo, Schooling moved to the U.S. well before his college career, attending high school at The Bolles School in Florida.

Another example of an American-trained man who found Olympic success is another Brazilian sprinter, Bruno Fratus. Fratus never swam in the NCAA, but he has trained in the USA for much of his elite career (currently in Florida). In 2013, a year after finishing 4th in the 50 freestyle at the London Olympics, Fratus joined the pro group at Auburn and trained there for 4 years. He wound up placing 6th in the 50 freestyle at Rio 2016 but found success at the 2017 World Championships when he took silver in the event.

After 2017, Fratus moved to Coral Springs, Florida, where he trained in the years before competing at his 3rd straight Olympic Games. At Tokyo 2020, Fratus got the job done and landed on an Olympic podium alongside Caeleb Dressel and Florent Manaudou in the 50 freestyle.

Fratus wasn’t the only American-trained swimmer to medal at the Tokyo Games as Italy’s Federico Burdisso pulled off the feat when he won bronze in the 200 butterfly and 4×100 freestyle. The slight asterisks on Burdisso’s case are that after his freshman year at Northwestern in 2019-2020, he went back to Italy to train amid the COVID-19 pandemic, placing him in his home country for the year leading up to Tokyo; and that he moved to the United States in 2017, a few years before start of his college career.

Nonetheless, Burdisso is back at Northwestern now and is expected to continue training there until Paris 2024 where he will make another bid for the Olympic podium.

Burdisso isn’t the only current international man training in the USA who has prospects of medaling in Paris. The aforementioned Matt Sates is a proven entity in short course meters as the world junior record-holder in the 200 and 400 freestyle and the 200 IM and will have a shot at making an immediate impact at Georgia this year. He arrived in the country on January 20, just one month out from SEC Championships.

Sates swam at the Tokyo 2020 Games and placed 32nd overall in the 100 butterfly and 14th in the 200 IM. It will be interesting to see how Sates’ training in Georgia impacts his chances, and what events he decides to focus on in the long course pool moving forward. We might get our first look later this year if he races for South Africa at the 2022 World Championships in May.

If Sates goes on to win an Olympic medal after his move to the USA, he won’t only be following in the footsteps of Cielo, Schooling, and Fratus, he’ll be next in a long line of Georgia Bulldogs to collect hardware on the Olympic stage. In the last few years, several members of the Georgia NCAA team and pro group have landed on Olympic podiums including Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland, Gunnar Bentz, Natalie Hinds, Olivia Smoliga, Melanie Margalis, Allison Schmitt, and Hali Flickinger.

In addition to Sates, Russian Olympian Andrei Minakov and France’s Leon Marchand have also made the decision to train in the USA pre-Paris. Minakov joined the Stanford men for the 2021 – 2022 season, while Marchand is racing for Arizona State.

Minakov was in contention for several medals at the Tokyo Games, but ultimately fell short when he placed 4th in the 100 fly, 4th in the 4×100 medley relay, 7th in the 4×100 freestyle relay, and 10th in the 100 free. Marchand also had a solid Olympic debut when he placed 6th overall in the 400 IM, 14th in the 200 fly, and 18th in the 200 IM.

While Sates, Minakov, and Marchand all found success before their moves to the USA, it will be interesting to see how these new training bases impact their chances at landing on a Parisian podium.

Female Athletes See Similar Results

Female international athletes have recently had more success with these moves, but overall, most international Olympic medalists are still trained in their home countries. From Tokyo 2002, that includes Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong (silvers in the 100 and 200 free) and Maggie MacNeil of Canada (gold in the 100 fly).

Four years earlier this list included only Katinka Hosszu, though the US was no longer her primary training base by the time she won Olympic medals, and Yulia Efimova, who was training at USC with Dave Salo.

In 2012, we weren’t able to identify any individual female Olympic medalists representing foreign countries who were training in the U.S. – at least not any who arrived through the collegiate system (though actual training situations can become murkier the further back we go).

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????
3 months ago

Maggie MacNeil was competing internationally in 2002? Crazy range!

tea rex
3 months ago

Thiago Pereira did some training in the USA. So did Yannick Agnel (to less success).

A bunch from the 00s: Moravcova, Coventry, Isakovic, Alshammar, Cavic, Bovell, Rogan, Draganja, the relay from South Afrizona (Schoeman, Neethling, Ferns, Townsend).

Some medalists from LC World Champs: Subirats, Andkjaer, Zandberg, Bousquet, Targett, Morozov, Switkowski, Koga, Gkolomeev, Waddell
Rigamonti, Spofforth, Vanderpool-Wallace, Lauren Boyle, Atkinson, Toussaint, Osman, Pickrem

Admin
Reply to  tea rex
3 months ago

Yannick I don’t think was training in the US until after his last Olympic medal, right?

Caleb
3 months ago

Didn’t Minakov grow up in California?

Admin
Reply to  Caleb
3 months ago

He spent some summers training there, but no, generally he didn’t “grow up there” per se.

Ghost
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

I think he went to HS in Northern California too?

Go, Summer, go!
Reply to  Ghost
3 months ago

No. He graduated HS in Russia. His parents were always living in Russia. His sister was studying in US and si working there since then. Minakov was just visiting her, spending sommers, training, etc.

tea rex
3 months ago

Daiya Seto has done a few weeks training in the USA now, so wow we created such a fast IMer from literally nothing.

CasualSwimmer
3 months ago

Fred Bousquet was also at Auburn with Cielo !

Jackman
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
3 months ago

Matt Targett too (silver/bronze in 2008). Before him there had been a good group of Aussies based in the US but it’s been a long time since then.

AUswimfan
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
3 months ago

And Matt Targett and Kirsty Coventry

Willswim
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
3 months ago

I’ve always wondered how Rowdy felt about how almost every country besides the USA had an Auburn swimmer on their finals relay the day that Jason Lezak invented joy.

PFA
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
3 months ago

Alain Bernard?

Big Mac #1
3 months ago

On womens side, Maggie MacNeil, Alia Atkinson, Kira toussaint, Anna hopkin, the hansson sisters and more. I know they aren’t all meadalists but some are and they are all international medalists

Jackman
Reply to  Big Mac #1
3 months ago

Haughey, Hosszu, Pickrem?

Dan
Reply to  Jackman
3 months ago

Pickrem swam in the US since she was 6 years old

exswimcoach
Reply to  Big Mac #1
3 months ago

don’t forget about the Hanson brothers who trained in Altoona, PA
comment image

Jackman
3 months ago

The headline could use a specification that you are only looking at Men – there are interestingly a good handful of USA trained international women that have found success.

Sun's Syringe
Reply to  Jackman
3 months ago

Yeah, Maggie McNeil who is one of the best performers of the years fills all of the required categories and receives no mention.

C'mon guys
3 months ago

Like Fratus, Schooling won a pair of NCAA titles for two years in a row when he earned gold in the 100 and 200 butterflies in both 2015 and 2016 for Texas.

HJones
Reply to  C'mon guys
3 months ago

I think you mean Cielo, not Fratus. Bruno never swam NCAA.

C'mon guys
Reply to  HJones
3 months ago

Correct, i was pointing out an error in the original article

This was a quote from the article before it was fixed