USC: It's a sporting nation unto itself
Updated: 2011-12-22 07:43
By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily)
USC running back Curtis McNeal (22) celebrates during an NCAA game against the UCLA Bruins last month. USC is known as a football powerhouse, but the school boasts national success in most of its 21 sports. USC alums have won 122 gold medals since 1904, and athletic director Pat Haden says the school expects 12 to 15 of its athletes to compete in the London Olympics. [Provided to China Daily]
The University of Southern California isn't just good at football - its athletes won more medals than all but 12 countries at the Beijing Olympics, Chen Xiangfeng reports from Los Angeles.
All the visiting sports journalists from China were familiar with Rebecca Soni, who won an Olympic gold medal in the 200m breaststroke at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What they didn't know was Soni was a full-time student of the University of South California (USC) at that time until they entered USC's Heritage Hall.
They also found out Soni is just one of many notable sporting figures cultivated by the university.
The tour, organized by NFL China included a trip to Heritage Hall. USC, which boasts a strong and popular American football team, also thrives in many other sports.
"We have 21 different sports here, not just football. In those sports, we have been named "the best university team" in America 116 times," said USC's athletic director, Pat Haden.
"At the Olympics, we have boasted some of the world's best athletes. We have won 122 gold medals since 1904 and at least one gold in every summer Olympics since 1912. These Olympic winners represent 60 countries, not just the US," he said.
Haden played quarterback for the Trojans (Trojans is the nickname for USC's athletics teams) before playing professionally in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams from 1976 to 1981 and he knows how to find the best high school students and lure them to USC.
"The best high school students athletes in swimming, track and field or in football all around America, we try to recruit them to USC. We promise them the best scholarship and education.
"We know many are future Olympic participants when we recruit them. We expect 12 to 15 student-athletes from USC to take part in the 2012 London Games."
Haden is still impressed by the Beijing Olympics, where China, for the first time, outclassed the US in the gold medal standings, but he remains more pleased with the performances of USC students.
"At the Beijing Olympic Games, if the USC students were performing as a country, they would have finished 13th in the medal tally," he said.
It's hard to imagine such a university in China, where the state-supported system would struggle to produce professional athletes in so many sports due to the separate education and sports systems.
Mark Jackson, senior associate athletics director at USC, revealed the huge investment made every year into the sports program.
"It's hard to say the exact number of dollars that we invest in an individual. But in all we have a more than $75 million budget every year for our athletic program. Each athletic scholarship costs about $60,000. We have 250 scholarships handed out each year. We have 900 people in the athletics department - 700 athletes and 200 staff."
In comparison, China's most prestigious sports university, Tsinghua University, boasts 26 sports, but only has an athletic staff of 58.
USC also makes an effort to balance education and athletic training.
"We have a summer program called the "Bridge Program" before the general student body arrives. The athletes learn how to register, learn to know their coaches and learn more about academic preparation That eases their lives before the other students arrive," said Jackson.
"Those support systems, academically and socially, support them all the way until graduation."
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