The United States Olympic Committee today announced plans to honor the Pac-12 Conference and its member institutions during the 2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas. The special event – set for Friday, March 10 – will recognize Pac-12 institutions’ long-standing commitment to Olympic sport programs and honor the success of its athletes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. The conference tribute is the first of its kind and part of a key organizational initiative to enhance broad-based Olympic sport programming at the collegiate level.
“Collegiate athletics are critical to Team USA’s success and nowhere was that more evident than in Rio, where nearly 80 percent of U.S. athletes – and an even higher percentage of American medalists – had collegiate ties,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “The Pac-12 was the most represented and decorated conference for Team USA, which is a testament to the extensive sport offerings and strength of Olympic programs at the university level.”
“Pac-12 universities have a proud legacy of success at the collegiate and Olympic level,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Olympic-level athletes come to our schools to receive outstanding educations while competing at the highest level of college athletics, and we are excited to join the USOC in celebrating the myriad opportunities Pac-12 schools provide Olympic sport athletes.”
As part of the celebration, an Olympian from each Pac-12 university will be in attendance to highlight the importance of collegiate sport opportunities. Representing eight sports and spanning nearly five decades of Olympic experience, the 12 athlete representatives own a combined 24 Olympic medals and 38 NCAA titles:
- University of Arizona: Leah O’Brien-Amico, softball (1996, 2000, 2004)
- Arizona State University: Townsend Saunders, wrestling (1996)
- University of California, Berkeley: Dana Vollmer, swimming (2004, 2012, 2016)
- University of Colorado: Jenny Simpson, track and field (2008, 2012, 2016)
- University of Oregon: Devon Allen, track and field (2016)
- Oregon State University: Dick Fosbury, track and field (1968)
- Stanford University: Kerri Walsh Jennings, beach volleyball (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)
- University of California, Los Angeles: Samantha Peszek, gymnastics (2008)
- University of Southern California: Bryshon Nellum, track and field (2012)
- University of Utah: Torin Koos, cross-country skiing (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)
- University of Washington: Mary Whipple, rowing (2004, 2008, 2012)
- Washington State University: Bernard Lagat, track and field (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016)
During the semifinal session of the Pac-12 tournament on March 10, all of the Olympians will have the chance to thank their alma maters for the opportunity to pursue their academic degrees while competing and developing as elite athletes.
“Having the opportunity to learn, grow and compete at Stanford was invaluable to me,” said five-time Olympian and two-time NCAA champion Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won her fourth Olympic medal in Rio to become the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian of all time. “The student-athlete experience helped shape my dreams and goals, and played a huge role in my Olympic journey. I feel so humbled and honored to have represented both Stanford and Team USA, and wish future generations of student-athletes the same kind of opportunities.”
At Rio 2016, Pac-12 athletes competed in 23 sports for 47 countries, including 113 athletes who represented Team USA – nearly double the delegation from any other NCAA conference. The Pac-12 was also the most decorated conference, with 55 athletes from its institutions returning home with 77 medals for Team USA, including 44 golds – twice as many as any other conference in both categories.
“At USC we pride ourselves on offering unparalleled academic and athletic opportunities for elite athletes, including those with Olympic aspirations,” said Lynn Swann, USC director of athletics. “We have an unmatched Olympic tradition of success at USC and our Pac-12 Conference peers also have incredible Olympic success stories. At USC, we believe that Olympic sports complement well-rounded lives and teach invaluable lessons, and we are grateful that the USOC shares those values.”
Of the 75 collegiate institutions that were represented by U.S. medalists in Rio, three Pac-12 universities – Stanford, California and USC – finished among the top-five performing programs. Of all collegiate institutions, Stanford brought home the most hardware for Team USA with former, current and incoming student-athletes earning 26 medals in seven sports.
Of the 211 Americans who earned medals in Rio, nearly 85 percent competed in collegiate athletics, with the majority of those coming in swimming, track and field, and team sports. Additionally, six sports had full collegiate participation – including basketball, diving, field hockey, indoor volleyball, rowing and triathlon – while more than 90 percent of U.S. rosters from other sports such as fencing, swimming, soccer, track and field, and water polo also had collegiate ties.
Overall, the U.S. collected 28 medals in team events, including three golds (basketball and water polo) and two bronzes (indoor volleyball) in traditional team sports. U.S. swimmers returned home with the most hardware, topping all nations in both the overall (33) and gold-medal (16) charts. Of the 38 U.S. swimming medalists, 16 had ties to Pac-12 institutions and helped contribute to the most swimming medals won by Team USA since 2000.
“College swimming is such an important cog in USA Swimming’s overall success, where athletes receive elite coaching and high performance resources, while at the same time challenge themselves in the classroom and learn personal responsibility,” said USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus. “Year after year, the Pac-12 Conference develops many of swimming’s highest achievers, including this past summer where eight of our 11 individual gold medals in Rio came from past or current Pac-12 swimmers.”
The Pac-12 recognition event is the latest step taken by the USOC to increase collaboration with NCAA member institutions and conferences to elevate national engagement and support of Olympic sport opportunities.
“The collegiate athletic system is a unique hallmark of the United States and provides the opportunity for student-athletes to pursue higher education, while striving for athletic excellence at a peak-performance time in their lives,” said Sarah Wilhelmi, who was appointed in May as the USOC’s director of collegiate partnerships. “We aim to strengthen Olympic sport opportunities, while collaborating with all conferences and institutions that believe in a holistic collegiate experience, and the power of sport to enrich lives and enhance achievement.”
News courtesy of USOC.