Tokyo Olympics: Where US Olympians Went to College

In honor of this year's Summer Olympics, take a look at six amazing athletes on Team USA and the schools that helped shaped them to be the best in the world.

Today marks the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. After being postponed last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games will be very different this year: there will be no international fans traveling to Tokyo, so everyone will have to settle for watching at home. Team USA will have many people watching from afar since there are so many US Olympians who have fans following them passionately. While you may know about their athletic achievements, each athlete’s educational background is probably less well known. Here are six Olympians to watch at the Tokyo Games this summer and where they went to college.

Carissa Moore, women’s surfing

At age 28, Carissa Moore is a four-time World Surfing League Women’s Champion (2011, 2013, 2015, and 2019). A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, she began surfing when her father taught her at age five. Like most professional surfers, Moore didn’t go to college, but she did attend Punahou School, a private K–12 school whose other famous alumni include former President Barack Obama. Moore is eager to practice her four years of high school Japanese at the Tokyo Olympics.

Katie Ledecky, women’s swimming

Katie Ledecky began swimming at age six after being influenced by her brother and mother, who swam for the University of New Mexico. Now she has five Olympic gold medals (so far!) and 15 world championship gold medals, along with records in several women’s freestyle events. She was also chosen as one of the sponsors of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise—she and Simone Biles were the first Olympians to be given this honor. At age 20 and after two Olympic games, Ledecky accepted a scholarship to Stanford University and joined coach Greg Meehan’s Cardinals women’s swimming team. Ledecky graduated from Stanford in June 2021 with a bachelor’s in Psychology and a minor in Political Science, standing in cap and gown poolside in Omaha, Nebraska, during this year’s Olympic Trials.

Related: Colleges With Strength in Women's Swimming and/or Diving

David Boudia, men’s diving

Deciding at age seven that he wanted to compete in the Olympics, David Boudia is now a four-time Olympian who’s considered among the best in the world. Competing in the individual and synchronized 10-meter diving events, Boudia has won four Olympic medals (gold and bronze in 2012 and silver and bronze in 2016) as well as several national titles and championships. A six-time NCAA national champion in college, he studied Communications at Purdue University and graduated in 2013.

Caeleb Dressel, men’s swimming

Referred to as “the heir to Michael Phelps” and “the next American Aquaman” by Sports Illustrated, 24-year-old Caeleb Dressel is on everyone’s radar this summer. Dressel competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio as a college student and took home two gold medals for the freestyle and medley events. He broke Phelps’s record in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and he’s expected to swim in around seven events in Tokyo, with high medal possibilities in each one. Dressel was a member of the Gator Swim Club at the University of Florida, where he was named 2016 NCAA Co-Swimmer of the Year and graduated in 2018.

Related: Colleges With Strength in Men's Swimming and/or Diving

Nevin Harrison, women’s canoe

In 2019 at age 17, Nevin Harrison became the first American woman to win a world title in a sprint canoe or sprint kayak event. Before the pandemic, she knew what her future was going to look like: winning an Olympic gold medal (this year marks the debut of women’s canoe at the Summer Games) and starting college in fall 2020 at the University of California, Berkeley. However, because the Tokyo Olympics got pushed a year, Harrison decided to hold off on going to college. She still sees herself starting as a freshman this fall after the Games but admits that while that’s her current plan, “the world sometimes has other plans.”

Simone Biles, women’s gymnastics

Known as one of the best gymnasts of all time and one of the most decorated, Simone Biles is a legend who’s revolutionized the world of artistic gymnastics. Prior to the 2016 Games in Rio, Biles had committed to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). However, her gymnastics career and demanding schedule made attending a traditional college impossible. Now she attends the University of the People (UoPeople), a fully accredited online university that’s tuition-free. This gives her the flexibility she needs to work her college coursework into her crazy-busy schedule. Biles is also a UoPeople Global Ambassador and created the Simone Biles Legacy Scholarship Fund to help students cover course assessment fees, with priority given to those who were in foster care.

Related: Colleges With Strength in Women's Gymnastics

Each Olympic athlete commits hours and hours of blood, sweat, and tears to practice and perfect their sport. They all have their own stories and make sacrifices in order to become the best in the world. As a result, their educational paths may not be as traditional depending on their sport, where they are in their career, and how college fits into their lives. What’s important to remember is that for each of these Olympians, their educational journey is uniquely their own and the best path for them—a great lesson for students and athletes at any level. Enjoy the Games! 

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