Where America's Olympians were born and where they currently live reveals interesting clusters.

The United States has sent more than 500 Olympians to London. Ranging from 15 to 54 years of age, they'll compete in almost every Olympic sport.

We all know that their red, white, and blue uniforms come from China, but where do the athletes themselves hail from?

With the help of my former MPI colleague Patrick Adler, now a doctoral student at UCLA, I took a look. Adler was able to track down the hometowns for 467 of America’s Olympians and the places they currently live for 445. As usual, Zara Matheson mapped the data.

Correction: In the original version of the map above, a coding error confused two cities named Rochester – one in Minnesota and one in New York. This map is the correct version.

The map above shows the "hometown" metros where the Olympians grew up. The largest number – 9 percent (43 athletes) – are from Los Angeles; 3.6 percent (17) are from the Bay Area, 3 percent (14) are from greater New York; and 2.3 percent (11) from Dallas. Four metros claim ten athletes each (2 percent): Tampa, San Diego, Atlanta and Miami.

Smaller metros rise to the top when we control for population. Now, Rochester, New York, leads the way with 1.7 athletes per 100,000 people followed by Great Falls (1.2), Cheyenne (1.1), Fairbanks (1.0), and Boulder (1.0).

Roughly eight percent of the athletes competing for America in these games were born abroad — among them Bernard Lagat (Kenya), Lopez Lomong (Sudan), Meb Keflezighi (Eritrea), Tony Gunawan and Howard Bach (Indonesia), Danell Levya (Cuba), Leonel Manzana (Mexico), and Varvara Lepchenko (Uzbekistan). The archer Khatuna Lorig (Georgia) has previously competed for the Soviet and the Georgian teams.  

As in science, technology and entrepreneurship, American sport gains from its openness and ability to attract global talent.

 

The map above takes a second cut, charting the metros where America’s Olympic competitors currently live. 

Los Angeles is again tops, but now it boasts an even greater concentration of athletes: 68 Olympians, 15 percent of the U.S. team, currently call it home. Nearby San Diego is second with 38 or 8.5 percent of Olympic athletes. Colorado Springs is third with 21 or 5 percent.  These athletes are clustered around Olympic training facilities in Chula Vista near San Diego and Colorado Springs.

Other metros with significant numbers of Olympians include: San Francisco with 19 or 4.3 percent; Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (which includes Princeton) with 17 or 3.8 percent; and Oklahoma City, Austin, and Miami, each with with 13 or 2.9 percent. California boasts 146 Olympians – which would make it the 19th largest national Olympic team.

When we control for population, the Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey, metro comes out on top, with a whopping 4.7 Olympic athletes per 100,000 people. Colorado Springs (3.5) is second, followed by Athens, Georgia (2.3) and Eugene, Oregon (2.0). The predominance of college towns makes sense: many Olympians come from their programs and train at their facilities.

One thing that's notable is the pronounced clustering of athletes in individual sports. L.A., for example, is home to six of 10 beach volleyball players, with two more from nearby Santa Barbara and Oxnard. Nearly half of America's fencers (7 of 16) live in New York. More than three-quarters of female rowers - 16 out of 21 of them - live in a single city, Princeton, New Jersey, while a large number of their male counterparts live in Chula Vista and Oklahoma City. 

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that the U.S. gains advantage from its more decentralized system for identifying and developing young athletes. Still, America’s Olympic athletes do cluster, especially around training facilities and locational centers of excellence. Mirroring the talent clustering that defines so many other dimensions of economic and social life, they also gain from training with, competing against, and being around each other.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    CityLab University: Inclusionary Zoning

    You’ve seen the term. But do you really know what it means? Here’s your essential primer.

  2. Equity

    Mobile Home Owners Find a Lifeline Against Displacement

    When a landlord sells a mobile home park, it can upend an entire community. Through co-ops, residents are finding a way to stay where they live and control their rent costs.

  3. Life

    Don’t Throw It Away—Take It to the Repair Cafe

    This series of workshops aims to keep broken items out of the landfill, and it might help you save a few bucks, too.

  4. A view from outside a glass office tower at dusk of the workers inside.
    Life

    Cities and the Vertical Economy

    Vertical clustering—of certain high-status industries on the higher floors of buildings, for example—is an important part of urban agglomeration.

  5. POV

    What ‘Skyscraper’ Doesn’t Get About Skyscrapers

    The Rock’s new movie should have gotten more thrills out of high-rise design, an engineer argues.