July 29, 2008

The U.S. Olympic team is always Californian-dominated

I had long had this impression, and now the Olympics issue of Sports Illustrated confirms it: Californians are hugely over-represented on the Summer Olympics team.

"Based on hometowns, California produced more members of Team USA (175) than any other state."

Indeed, the next seven states only produced 176 athletes.

Similarly,
"The colleges with the most team members (current students or alums) are Stanford (31), UCLA (19), USC (19), Texas (17), Cal (14), and North Carolina (13)."

Why is this?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

39 comments:

J. said...

Immigration?

Anonymous said...

Weather

agnostic said...

California has the largest population. They need to calculate a per capita rate. It would still probably come out on top, though.

Here are states listed by population, followed by the US Census pop estimates. You could plot number of Olympians as a function of pop size, or maybe LN(pop size), in Excel.

California
Texas
New York
Florida
Illinois
Pennsylvania
Ohio
Michigan
Georgia
North Carolina
New Jersey
Virginia
Massachusetts
Washington
Indiana
Arizona
Tennessee
Missouri
Maryland
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Colorado
Alabama
South Carolina
Louisiana
Kentucky
Oregon
Oklahoma
Connecticut
Iowa
Mississippi
Arkansas
Kansas
Utah
Nevada
New Mexico
West Virginia
Nebraska
Idaho
Maine
New Hampshire
Hawaii
Rhode Island
Montana
Delaware
South Dakota
Alaska
North Dakota
Vermont
District Columbia
Wyoming

36,457,549
23,507,783
19,306,183
18,089,888
12,831,970
12,440,621
11,478,006
10,095,643
9,363,941
8,856,505
8,724,560
7,642,884
6,437,193
6,395,798
6,313,520
6,166,318
6,038,803
5,842,713
5,615,727
5,556,506
5,167,101
4,753,377
4,599,030
4,321,249
4,287,768
4,206,074
3,700,758
3,579,212
3,504,809
2,982,085
2,910,540
2,810,872
2,764,075
2,550,063
2,495,529
1,954,599
1,818,470
1,768,331
1,466,465
1,321,574
1,314,895
1,285,498
1,067,610
944,632
853,476
781,919
670,053
635,867
623,908
581,530
515,004

halfbreed said...

I was a swimmer in Boston in the late 60's and 70's, and back then, California always seemed like the Promised Land to me, since all the great swimmers (Schollander, Spitz, Hall, etc.) came from there. California's dominance in swimming is no longer what it was, but it is still the number one state.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the weather clearly has a lot to do with it. I always felt that swimmers from colder climates were at a disadvantage because they had to expend more calories just to fight the cold, whereas swimmers in the milder California climate could use a higher proportion of their caloriee more "economically", i.e., in the pool. Swimmers from places like Texas and Florida are also at a disdvantage because during the summers they have to fight the heat (it takes energy to sweat, and when it's eighty degrees plus and humid, the body overheats more quickly, which makes it hard to trian). In California most of the great club programs (such as Mission Viejo, Trojan Swim Club, formerly Santa Clara) as well as the better college programs (Cal, Stanford, USC, and formerly UCLA)are located in the temperate regions of California, i.e., within twenty miles of the coast, where you have pretty much a Mediterranean climate year round (as opposed for further inland, where it gets cold in the winter and bakes in the summer). The same applies to the better track programs in California.

There's also a cultural aspect to it. To win your high school sectional meet in California (the state is too big to have a state championship) you generally have to go pretty fast, and most teams and individuals tend to train enough to go as fast as they have to. So if your competition is fast, it generally makes you faster. There's also the snowball effect: a lot of top swimmers, like Schollander, moved there from other places (in his case, Oregon) just to train.

This may not be as true in the future. The blacks who dominate sprinting in track haven't decreased in numbers, but whites in California are a rapidly dinimishing (percentage-wise, at least) breed, and the Mexicans who are replacing them aren't built for swimming. (They generally have the opposite of the ideal swimming build, which is tall, with wide shoulders and narrow hips.) Plus swimming is mostly a middle class sport, Mexicans are usually not middle class, and the white middle class is shrinking especially rapidly. The Okies who emigrated there in the 30's always struck me as a hardy lot, and a group which -- for whatever reason -- had a tendency to really let themselves be totally absorbed by whichever little mini-culture they chose to join, whether that was the hippie culture (flower power originated in California as much as anywhere else), the surf culture, car culture (especially customizing cars), bike culture (i.e., the Hells Angels or their kin), rock and roll (California produced more quality bands in the 60's than any other state -- witness the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Mamas and Papas, etc.), or physical culture, whether that was Muscle Beach in Venice or the swimming world. (How's that for a run-on sentence?) Anyway, the Okies don't seem to dominate the state any more, and the California the Beach Boys sang about survives only in small pockets. (Sorry for getting off-topic here.) But the weather remains the same, and that weather will always attract -- and nurture -- top athletes. I can't speak with any authority about sports other than swimming and track, but I'm guessing the same factors apply to them as well.

Anonymous said...

what do they mean by 'home towns' -where they moved or where they are from?

Though this phenom goes all the way back to the 1924 olympics...

rightsaidfred said...

A big state, with big universities, with big training programs would be the biggest recruiter of athletes.

I'd be interested in seeing a geographic breakdown of individual athlete's hometowns.

Anonymous said...

It's easier to do sports in California, due to the climate, so more people develop their talent.

Lucille said...

One possiblity to look at would be to examine how physical education and sports are treated in the public schools.

Dennis Mangan said...

Californians are as bronze gods.

Anonymous said...

There are about 550 athletes on Team USA so California's represent 32%. All things being equal, one would expect Californias to represent 38/300 = 13%. Several explainations:

(1-minor) Many of summer olympic sports are more obscure sports of idle upper or obsessed middle class. By real estate prices alone, I suspect that Californians represent more than 13% of this group. In addition, Californians like unconventional sports and is large enough to have an infrastructure for them.

(2-major) Many summer olympic sports are traditionally favored by California's year round summer-like climate and proximity to water. It seems some non-water-based indoor winter sports like wrestling are dominated by Midwesterners. Is weightlifting dominated by Californians? Perhaps boxing is due to the disproportinate hispanic population?

(3-minor) Califonia and most other costal areas are magnets for talent throughout the US and the world. The most talented, ambitious and desperate disproportionally find their way to places like California and Texas for better opportunities.

(4-major) If you want to compete at the highest level of water polo, rowing, kayaking, swimming, table tennis, martial arts, etc you go to a Califonia university. How many of the Stanford, USC and Cal students/alums were raised with these sports or came from elsewhere?

It would be interested in seeing a breakdown by sport of the regional and SES. It would also be curious how this maps to how athletes self-segregate by sport (e.g. wrestlers and weightlifters, water polo guys with beach volleyball guys, crew and equestrians, wrestlers and martial artists, etc).

guest007 said...

Lucille,

Public schools have almost no effect on the success of athletes with the possible exception of Football. Swimmers, divers, soccer players, baseball players having been playing since they were six. What is needed for good athletes to develop in most sports (except maybe football and basketball) are parents willing to put the effort into supporting their kids.

Olympic sports are SWPL and require upper middle class standing and facilities to support them.

Anonymous said...

Like California, Australia was also recently noted as overrepresented in the most medals per capital at the Olympics.

This is probably due to the same things such as a culture obsessed with physicality and sports (at least among the middle class who pursue most Olympic sports) blessed with an ideal year round training climate.

Do the Australians out perform Californians when normalized for population or even the subpopulation that actually provide most athletes?

Robert said...

Th Olympics seem to be a "California" thing. It is part of the overall fitness craze that is Californian as well. Some trends seem to just stay on the west coast. People in Illinois, or New York may be into sports in general but it would be football, baseball etc.. Swimming, pole vaulting, track type events etc. are very California in nature. I wonder if the US Olympic basketball and baseball teams are dominated by Californians?

Peter said...

One minor factor might be that California is not quite as football-mad as some other states like Texas. This results in fewer athletically inclined people being drawn into football, which of course is not an Olympic sport.

astorian said...

There are only a few states with large enough populations to keep up with California. Texas and Florida are among them. The big difference is, Texas and Florida are football-mad states in a way that California is not.

In Texas, guys big and strong enough to be champion discus throwers, shot putters and Greco-Roman wrestlers end up as guards or tackles for the Longorns, Aggies or Sooners.

In Florida, guys fast enough to be champion sprinters end up as wide receivers for the Hurricanes, or cornerbacks for the Gators.

College football tends to swallow up the best athletes in Texas and Florida. I have no doubt that there are many tight ends in the NFL who'd have made phenomenal decathletes- but they tend not to go in that direction.

StevenP said...

'Summer Olympic Medals per capita' by capita is dominated by the Scandinavia:
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/spo_sum_oly_med_all_tim_percap-medals-all-time-per-capita

(the US does nearly 10 times worse than the elite countries)

Finland and Sweden haven't exactly got the perfect weather for Summer sports, but they do have an outdoorsy culture, like California, and governments willing to spend public funds on sport.

Theorist said...

Weather, universities, etc. is too obvious and can't account for such a huge gap.

Maybe California attracts the genetically superior? See our old friend Kevin Love, for example; guys like him don't get born in, say, Mississippi. His genetically gifted parents would have moved out to California.

Maybe many of them are second/third generation athletes born after their athletic\genetically gifted parents Hollywooded-up, so to speak.

In any case, interesting catch, Mr. Explainer :-)

Argent Paladin said...

I can give a little insight from the point of view of Stanford admissions (I am an alum, a former RA and friends with the admissions director (after I got in, not before))
Stanford, like China, places great pride in being the "winningest"school in America, that is, having the most NCAA championships. But, from their point of view, it doesn't matter if it is a football championship or women's lacrosse. In fact, they favor individuals over teams because they cost less money, and they tend to have better GPAs/SATs. It would be very, very difficult for Stanford to form a Bowl-winning football team without lowering its admission standards, but it can cherry-pick the best swimmers, x-country runners, golfers, etc without too much damage to its overall stats and it gains a lot of trophies.
Now, other universities in the PAC-10 need to keep up and UCLA, USC and UCB all play the same game because they don't want to be slaughtered, even if it is in track and field or diving.
The obvious question is, don't other schools have the same NCAA trophy-hoarding incentives? Yes, but many of them are already invested in the big name sports. Stanford was an early-mover in women's sports and California schools have a natural advantage with swimming, which the US does well in, as well as other outdoor sports. Not too hot, not too cold. Stanford has also invested hundreds of millions in state-of-the-art facilities: tennis courts, weight rooms, tracks, training rooms, stadiums, pools, etc.
I think at its base you have to consider what sports champions have the highest IQs. I think Olympians beat out Heisman trophy winners or Final Four players.

Argent Paladin said...

I can give a little insight from the point of view of Stanford admissions (I am an alum, a former RA and friends with the admissions director (after I got in, not before))
Stanford, like China, places great pride in being the "winningest"school in America, that is, having the most NCAA championships. But, from their point of view, it doesn't matter if it is a football championship or women's lacrosse. In fact, they favor individuals over teams because they cost less money, and they tend to have better GPAs/SATs. It would be very, very difficult for Stanford to form a Bowl-winning football team without lowering its admission standards, but it can cherry-pick the best swimmers, x-country runners, golfers, etc without too much damage to its overall stats and it gains a lot of trophies.
Now, other universities in the PAC-10 need to keep up and UCLA, USC and UCB all play the same game because they don't want to be slaughtered, even if it is in track and field or diving.
The obvious question is, don't other schools have the same NCAA trophy-hoarding incentives? Yes, but many of them are already invested in the big name sports. Stanford was an early-mover in women's sports and California schools have a natural advantage with swimming, which the US does well in, as well as other outdoor sports. Not too hot, not too cold. Stanford has also invested hundreds of millions in state-of-the-art facilities: tennis courts, weight rooms, tracks, training rooms, stadiums, pools, etc.
I think at its base you have to consider what sports champions have the highest IQs. I think Olympians beat out Heisman trophy winners or Final Four players.

Anonymous said...

As a resident of Orange County, and a 4th generation Southern Californian (non-Okie), I would agree with the previous commenters here, especially halfbreed. The weather plays a signficant role, obviously. Cycling and rowing in particular are very popular in this area. I remember attending the 1984 Olympics where both sports enjoyed strong local appeal.

Anonymous said...

UCLA is often referred to as Univ of Caucasions Lost among Asians. I dont know how that relates to swimming tho.

Old Dad said...

My guess is that climate started the ball rolling. It's possible to train outdoors almost year round in SC. Moreover, the SC culture tended to reward health, fitness, tans. And SC was a helluva nice place to live. Schools were well financed. And the sports infrastructure grew--pools, coaches, tournaments, traditions, rewards, press. World class talent naturally migrated to the best resources.

Bill said...

I vote weather.

Washington state and Alaska have disproportionate numbers of Winter Olympics medalists because there are so many places to ski. Seattle often has the nation's best crew teams because there are lakes all over the city.

In California you can run, bike and swim to your heart's content without having to worry about the weather. That's also why Californians are better looking. No need to sit inside, unshaven and glum, swilling coffee and listening to rain pelt the window. But I will say that the sound of a gentle rain on a still lake in the morning is beautiful in its own way.

W Baker said...

I suspect the US leisure industry's largest sector is in California. By "leisure" I mean everything from country clubs, golf courses, racquet clubs, to hotels, beach and lake resorts, etc.

Sport is a natural progression from this sort of culture.

I'd be equally interested in seeing numbers on the average weight/height/waistline of Californians vs. others. (But that would be heavily distorted by short immigrants from the south and fat immigrants from the Middle East!)

Anonymous said...

Hometowns? As in the top Russian tennis players who list some city in Florida as their hometown?

Anonymous said...

Steve,

this comment on the Olympic team raises an interesting question - is the success of an Olympian determined mainly by genes plus the training that he gets before the age of five or genes plus the training that he gets after the age of five

putting it another way, if you test five year olds can you predict their ultimate success as olympians.

The Abecedarian Project seems to indicate that IQ is somewhat maleable up to the age of five. So all the money spent on trying to improve the IQ of kids older than five is probably wasted but money spent from birth to five may indeed be worthwhile

what does the evidence indicate is the case for Olympic sports

Anonymous said...

People in the west are generally in better shape than those in other parts of the country, this causes the overrepresentation. I suspect you'd find overrepresentation of Coloradans, Utahns, Pacific Northwesterners, New Englander etc. Basically any place where wealth meets a sporting mindset. Plus people from those areas are less likely to funnel their athletic talents into football basketball etc.

sisyphus said...

There are about 550 athletes on Team USA so California's represent 32%. All things being equal, one would expect Californias to represent 38/300 = 13%.

13% of 550 is 72, so they have about 100 more than we would naturally expect.

A quick check of the USA water polo website shows that of the 26 men and women selected for the teams, 2 women are from Michigan, 1 from Oregon, and one guy is from Hawaii.

We'd expect about 3 from Cali if they were distributed evenly, so just one obscure, kind of weird sport not played much in the US accounts for a fifth of the deviation from the expected.

As another poster alluded to, maybe there are other sports that are similarly geographically concentrated there.

savvygoper said...

As a side note, California dominates in soccer in the US, in particular southern cal. A very large number of the top clubs and players come from there. These are mostly middle and upper-middle class white kids on these teams. Given similar climate and year round training programs which other states take advantage of I have to believe it is a cultural edge.

Anonymous said...

The frontier is a place for manly men.

PrestoPundit said...

Orange County, CA ranked 9th among nations in the medal count, if you counted its athletes as a separate country.

The OC Register suggested that the key factor was coaching, esp. in the water sports.

Only a few key coaches accounted for the athletic transformation of the county.

There's also the weather and the very competitive and driven parents in OC.

Dennis Dale said...

The Dead Kennedys are vindicated!
Your kids will meditate in school
California Uber Alles!
California Uber Alles!

PrestoPundit said...

OC Register, "Why are we home to so many Olympians?"

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/olympic-county-orange-2085530-gold-viejo


"While OC athletes won Olympic medals in the 1960s, the county's emergence as an international Olympic force can be traced to 1972 when the Mission Viejo Company hired an unknown Midwest swim coach named Mark Schubert to coach the Nadadores."

Anonymous said...

When I first moved to California in the early 80s, I noticed that upper-middle-class (and above) Californians were far less likely than the Midwesterners I grew up with to have a piano or a wall of bookshelves filled with books.

People who are real sports enthusiasts, sun worshipers, and all-around "out-doorsy" types are more likely to move to places like Southern California, and more likely to STAY there than people like me. I didn't think that the trade-offs (crowded freeways, bad schools, outrageous house prices) were worth it, although my ex-husband DID.

And people who are natural-born sports nuts are much more likely to be willing to drive little Johnny all over creation on Saturday so that he can play competitive sports, and spend a big chunk of money on equipment and fees, while indoor people like me spend a lot of time indoors with the stereo, the books, and the piano.

Similarly, I don't think that East Asians are necessarily more musically talented than other races, but the parents ARE more willing to buy a piano and pay for lessons, and they are a lot more inclined to insist that the child practice. When my daughter started group piano/music lessons at age four in California, she was the only non-Asian in the class, although we did NOT live in a heavily Asian neighborhood.

To find out if your child has talent in any area (art, music, dance, sports) you usually have to invest some time or money or both. Lots of parents just don't bother.

Anonymous said...

As you say, in most of the country outside of the elite zones, most of the effort and attention goes to football, b-ball, and still baseball. Only a few Olympians are generated.

Worse, NO adults except Farve play football and only a few play baseball (albeit many play softball, but neither are good exercise), so investment in these two sports is entirely non-productive for developing fitness for life. Mostly they just develop nagging injuries for life. I can STILL feel bad knee, shoulder, and back from football played as a slightly undersized hard-hitting corner back in 1963-4!!!

Two points (1) The upper middle class in CA is predicatively smart enough to invest in life-enhancing sports and (2) for once the urban underclass makes a good choice to emphasize aerobic b-ball and bag baseball.

Saladman said...

Weather and college-level recruitment both sound like significant influences, but I'm not sure they're all.

I'm thinking about population, specifically in its role of achieving a critical mass of trainees. Olympic athletes for the most part don't come out of nowhere from working out in their parents' back yard. They need peers to train with or against, but more important still they need coaches. Some events can be dominated for years by the students of a few good coaches.* Even with completely impartial qualifications tests, there's no reason to expect even distributions from across the country. In events where coaching is critical, you could expect to see clusters of olympians coming from the best coaches, who have attracted the best students.

Californians generally may not be a race of supermen, but they have the large population to make critical masses of athletes more likely than other locations.

*I think I remember reading this about the US women's gymnast team some time ago, but my google-fu is weak and I haven't located a cite yet.

Half Sigma said...

What other states besides CA have a disproportionate, on a per capita basis, representation in the Olympics?

Peter said...

As you say, in most of the country outside of the elite zones, most of the effort and attention goes to football, b-ball, and still baseball. Only a few Olympians are generated.
Worse, NO adults except Farve play football and only a few play baseball (albeit many play softball, but neither are good exercise), so investment in these two sports is entirely non-productive for developing fitness for life.


Yeah, it's ironic. Football is America's most popular sport, yet for adults it's almost entirely a spectator rather than participant sports. Very very few adults actually play it.

travis said...

Maybe California attracts the genetically superior? See our old friend Kevin Love, for example; guys like him don't get born in, say, Mississippi. His genetically gifted parents would have moved out to California.

Not so fast, my friend. Californian Tom Brady has been dethroned as the Master of the Universe by the Mississippi Manning boys the last couple years.

(btw, Kevin Love is SOFT!)