In Southeastern Conference territory, competition is a way of life. Year after year, SEC sports programs spew jetstreams of cash to beat each other on and off the field. Stadia, facilities, coaches’ salaries, TV contracts just keep getting bigger and better. There’s really no choice. Snazzy helicopters, after all, can only do so much to lure the big-time recruits which make college sports’ premier conference go round.
With the Summer Olympics opening ceremony this Friday, though, now is a good time to figure out which SEC state is top dog in terms of all-around athletic talent. For this exercise, we’ll tear down institutional walls which divide states. No Auburn/Alabama or MSU/Ole Miss delineations here. We only care about state borders, and the Olympians who grew up between them.
With this in mind, it turns out the biggest states have produced the most gold medalists at all modern summer Olympic Games since 1896. Not a surprise.
It gets interesting, however, when examining the numbers on a per capita basis:
Breaking Down SEC states’ # of Gold Medalists Per Capita
# of Gold Medalists
# People per Gold Medalist
Most Impressive Olympians?
|1||Mississippi||22||2.97 million||135,000||Calvin Smith, Ralph Boston|
|2||Missouri||31||5.99 million||193,226||Henry Iba, Helen Stephens|
|3||Arkansas||14||2.92 million||208,571||Earl Bell, Scottie Pippen|
|4||Louisiana||21||4.53 million||215,714||Rod Milburn, Karl Malone|
|5||Kentucky||16||4.34 million||271,250||Muhammad Ali, Mary Meagher|
|6||Alabama||17||4.7 million||276,471||Harvey Glance, Jennifer Chandler|
|7||Georgia||35||9.69 million||276,857||Gwen Torrence, Angelo Taylor|
|8||Texas||72||25.15 million||349,306||Babe Zaharias, Michael Johnson|
|9||South Carolina||12||4.63 million||385,833||Joe Frazier, Katrina McClain|
|10||Florida||`43||18.80 million||437,209||Bob Hayes, Rowdy Gaines|
|11||Tennessee||11||6.35 million||577,273||Wilma Rudolph, Tracy Caulkins|
Is it surprising the smaller states tend to produce more elite athletes on a per capita basis? Could this be partly due to athletes in those states getting more individual coaching than athletes from areas with larger populations?
Who do you think are the two or three greatest Olympians from these states? I’m sure a lot of that judgment boils down to the emphasis put on individual vs. team sports, and if the traditional sports (e.g. track and field, swimming, box) are valued more than their more modern brethren (BMX racing, judo).
Pole vaulter Earl Bell may have the most accomplished Olympic career of any native Arkansan. The Jonesboro native competed in three Olympics, finishing sixth (1976), third (1984)and fourth (1988). There’s an extremely good chance he would have also medaled in the 1980 Moscow Olympics had the Americans participated.
Hamburg native Scottie Pippen, on the other hand, never had to compete in any individual sports (although he likely was athletic enough to competed at an elite level in the 400 meters or long jump, insinuates Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum). Still, the basketball star won two gold medals as vital contributor on the 1992 and 1996 Dream Teams.
More comments & nifty graphic in republished version here.