by Melissa Katz

Pyeongchang 2018 Collegiate Footprint infographic (Photo by USOPC)

With 244 athletes on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, each athlete’s path to South Korea has been unique. Some started competing in their sport at a young age, while others began training just a few years ago. There’s one thing more than one-third of the team has in common: collegiate athletics played a role in their journey to becoming an Olympian.

From ice hockey to bobsled to biathlon, college athletics has fully rooted itself in the makeup of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. Overall, 36 percent of Team USA competed collegiately at 48 institutions across all three NCAA divisions, while 76 percent attended college at 87 different schools.

“The diversity of school contributions to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team highlights the importance of our unique intercollegiate athletics system to the U.S. Olympic Movement,” said USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley. “Our athletes have achieved impressive academic accolades while striving to be world-class competitors.”

Ice hockey leads all sports in student-athlete athletic participation, averaging 94 percent participation across the men’s and women’s teams. More than 87 percent of the U.S. bobsled delegation competed collegiately, while 75 percent of the cross-country skiing team were student-athletes. Biathlon and skeleton round of the top-five U.S. teams in South Korea with heavy collegiate footprints, with half of the squads spending time as student-athletes in college.

The University of Minnesota leads all schools with nine athletes competing in South Korea. Dartmouth College is a close second, with eight student-athletes representing the U.S., while Boston College comes in third with six athletes. Alaska Pacific University and the University of Vermont both check in with five athletes, while the University of Wisconsin and Boston University register four athletes. Eleven additional schools have two or three athletes competing for the U.S. in PyeongChang.

For sports like ice hockey, where 100 percent of the women’s team and 88 percent of the men’s team competed collegiately, the NCAA system provides a platform to continue their athletic careers after graduation.

“Without the NCAA, I would not have been able to continue to play hockey as well as I am now,” said University of Wisconsin alum and three-time Olympian Hilary Knight. “It was able to provide structure and a really competitive environment for me to compete not only in the classroom, but also on the ice."

Unlike ice hockey, bobsled has a more indirect collegiate pipeline. Many athletes who are now Olympians competed collegiately in power- and speed-based sports like track and field, softball, volleyball and football. Having collegiate athletes transfer their athletic talents to new sports like bobsled is an integral piece of Team USA’s continued success.

For many of these student-athletes, their success in the collegiate ranks has helped propel them to achieve their Olympic dreams. And as the 2018 Olympic Winter Games get underway, many of these same collegiate athletes are hoping to add Olympic medalist to their already-impressive athletic resumes.

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