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Trojans ready to continue USC’s remarkable Olympic tradition

No U.S. university has produced more Olympians, overall medalists or gold medalists, and a Trojan has won a medal at every Summer Olympics since 1904

<strong>1904:</strong> The first Trojan Olympian, Emil Breitkreutz, travels to St. Louis and wins a bronze in the 800-meter run. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>1912:</strong> USC's first gold medalist is Fred Kelly, left, in the 110-meter high hurdles. High jumper Alma Richards, right, follows with his own gold in the same Stockholm games. (Photos/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>1928:</strong> USC’s first women Olympians compete in Amsterdam. Lillian Copeland, left, wins a silver in the women’s discus (she would win the gold in L.A. in 1932), and Helene Mayer wins the gold medal in fencing. (Photos/Courtesy of USC Athleti
<strong>1948:</strong> Sammy Lee becomes the first Asian-American to win Olympic gold for the United States at the London games. He won another gold in 1952 becoming the first back-to-back winner in tower diving. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>1956:</strong> Swimmer Murray Rose ’62 makes his Olympic debut in Melbourne at 17 and becomes the youngest man to win three golds. He won three more medals in 1960, and holds the most Olympic medals of any Trojan. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>1968:</strong> Fencer Janice Lee York Romary is the first woman to carry the U.S. flag in an Olympic opening ceremony. The six-time Olympian competed in every Summer Olympics from 1948 to 1968, the most of any Trojan. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athlet
<strong>1968/1996:</strong> Trojan Family, indeed – sprinter Lennox Miller won a silver in Mexico City in 1968 and a bronze in Munich in 1972; his daughter Inger Miller won gold for in Atlanta in 1996. (Photos/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>1984:</strong> USC’s University Park Campus hosts the swimming and diving and serves as the largest of the Los Angeles games’ three Olympic Villages. (Photo/DesignLook)
<strong>1992:</strong> In Barcelona, USC's Quincy Watts wins the 400 meters and also takes gold in the 4x400-meter relay. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>2000:</strong> USC backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg wins the first of four career Olympic gold medals in Sydney. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>2004</strong>: Tina Thompson – now a WNBA pro (and the league’s all-time leading scorer) – helps lead the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team to gold in Athens in 2004. She does the same in Beijing in 2008. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Athletics)
<strong>2012:</strong> Felix Sanchez wins gold for the Dominican Republic in the 400-meter hurdles in London, repeating his same accomplishment from Beijing four years earlier. (Photo/Egghead06)

When the Olympic Games get underway in Rio on Aug. 5, USC will have a healthy representation — 44 current and former Trojans at last count. It’s fitting, because no university has a stronger Olympic tradition.

The university’s participation in the Olympics dates back to 1904, when Emil Breitkreutz ’06 traveled to St. Louis, becoming the first USC student to compete in the games. Breitkreutz took home a bronze medal in the 800-meter run — marking the beginning of a Trojan Olympic legacy that today is unrivaled.

Since then, a Trojan athlete has won a medal at every Summer Olympics. And USC has produced more Olympians, overall medalists and gold medalists than any other university in the United States.

USC’s star-studded Olympic roster includes 423 Trojans who attended the university before, during or after their Summer or Winter Olympic appearances. Those athletes have represented 59 countries and participated in 28 different sports, ranging from those generally associated with USC, such as track and swimming, to more unusual sports, such as team handball, canoeing and bobsled. While Trojans traditionally have found their place in the sun during the Summer Olympics, USC athletes also have competed in the Winter Olympics 10 times.

All told, USC’s Olympians have won 635 places on Olympic teams, and have taken home 135 gold medals, 88 silver and 65 bronze. But those extraordinary achievements amount to more than medals and an abiding place in sports history.

“Olympic achievements also speak to the fruits of a magnificently led life, one that champions the ideals USC hopes to instill in every Trojan: to be faithful, courageous, skillful, ambitious and scholarly,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “These traits remain permanently etched at the base of Tommy Trojan, a touchstone at the heart of our campus, and a bold proclamation of our community’s commitment to power.”

At USC, Louis Zamperini set a national collegiate mile mark of 4:08.3 that stood for 15 years. (Photo/USC University Archives)

At USC, Louis Zamperini set a national collegiate mile mark of 4:08.3 that stood for 15 years. (Photo/USC University Archives)

Perhaps the most widely recognized USC Olympian whose life demonstrated these ideals is the late Louis Zamperini ’40. Zamperini represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, running a phenomenal final lap at 56 seconds.

His career took a dramatic turn when the U.S. entered World War II, and Zamperini joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a bombardier. During a routine mission over the Pacific in 1943, Zamperini and his crewmates on a B-24 crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Surviving for 47 days on open waters, he was later captured and held under brutal conditions in a Japanese POW camp for two and a half years.

Struggling to overcome the traumatic events during his captivity, Zamperini rebuilt his life upon his return to the U.S., and later became a renowned public speaker, frequently discussing the topics of motivation and reconciliation. His remarkable story is recounted in the bestselling book and subsequent film, Unbroken.

RELATED: Trojan Olympic gallery

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