Note: The data in this article is linked below
List of Every Olympian Born in the United States
Which American States Have Produced the Most Olympians
Christmas came early. While the European Championships were being held I received an email from one of the contributors to the OlyMadMen database. It featured a list of every single Olympian in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) sorted into two sheets. The first sheet listed their place of birth, the second sheet listed their club affiliation.
The data is amazing and I must emphasize how awesome the OlyMadMen researchers are for taking the time to create the spreadsheet for me. It has enough information in it to produce a dozen different articles, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of it. But to start, I’m going to work with the American data to find which state (plus Puerto Rico) has produced the most Olympians.
Note: Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but is not one of the 50 states. Furthermore, they participate at the Olympics under their own flag and are not part of Team-USA. I opted to include them in the data because they technically are American citizens.
The first step was to identify “doubles” in the data, cities with the same name but are actually two different cities. With 92 total gymnasts in the data, there were two instances of a double-city name. The first was Simone Biles who was born in Columbus, Ohio. Biles was doubled up with Kylie Dickson who competed for Belarus, but was born in Columbus, Georgia. It was a pretty ironic combination considering they both appeared in the 2016 Olympic Games. The second example was Lenika De Simone who competed for Spain at the 2008 Olympics, but was born in Hollywood, Florida. While Dominique Moceanu was born in Hollywood, California.
Both examples feature a gymnast named “Simone” and both feature a gymnast who competed for a country other than the United States. The keyword here is “born in the United States” which means gymnasts of all countries are eligible for the data. Consequently, gymnasts born outside of the United States but competed for the United States are ineligible for the data. This includes numerous high profile American Olympians, most notably Nastia Liukin.
The above graphic provides a geographic visual of where Olympic gymnasts were born. The Northeast and New York city are strongly represented, with the Midwest also emerging as a major gymnastics hub. There are a couple of “hub-cities” that I want to highlight and will start from largest to smallest.
New York City: Officially, it is not the largest city in the data with just four gymnasts being listed as “New York.” This is because most gymnasts from the New York City area are listed by their borough, neighborhood, or came from a suburb. In total, New York City and its surrounding area produced 13 Olympic gymnasts. Of which seven of them were located in New Jersey, but right alongside the New York border. Newark and Jersey City were strongly represented. There were two additional gymnasts from North Jersey, but I didn’t include them as part of the NYC hub because they were relatively far away from the city center. Ironically, the two WAGs in the New York City hub that are the furthest from each other are separated by 26.1 miles, just under an Olympic marathon.
Los Angeles: Unlike the New York City hub, I was more generous with the Los Angeles hub in lumping all the gymnasts together. It is far more spread out with its six gymnasts having hometowns as far as 60-70 miles away from each other. Only 1968 Olympian Wendy Cluff is officially listed as being born in Los Angeles, although Dominique Moceanu is in the data as “Hollywood, Los Angeles.” Michelle Dusserre and Cathy Rigby represent Long Beach. The two remaining gymnasts are McKayla Maroney (Aliso Viejo) and Jamie Dantzscher (Canoga Park).
Philadelphia: With five Olympic WAGs listed in the OlyMadMen database, this is technically the largest city in the data. This result represents the surprising amount of sports history Philadelphia has, but many don’t know about. It has six NCAA Division I schools known as a the Big-5 and City-6. It also had two major baseball teams prior to MLB’s western expansion. For a city with so many sports teams, it makes sense it is one of the top producers of Olympians as well.
Boston: This is one of the hubs gymnastics fans are the most familiar with. Aly Raisman and Alicia Sacramone are both in the data as “Boston.” This gives the city representation in three consecutive Olympics from 2008-2016. There is a second 2016 Olympian in the data. Houry Gebeshian attended the 2016 Rio Olympics while competing for Armenia. She was born in Cambridge which is 3.1 miles from the Boston city center. The final member of the Boston hub is Kathy Corrigan who was born in Quincy which is 9.1 miles from Boston city center. For 40 years she was the only gymnast from the Boston area. It took only nine years for that number to jump to four.
Indianapolis: The city that gave us the Headquarters of Evil (USAG) also happens to have three Olympic WAGs. They are Sandra Ruddick (1956), Jaycie Phelps (1996), and Samantha Peszek (2008).
Tallahassee: The strongest city in the South, and the last city with three or more Olympians, Tallahassee was one of the more surprising results in the data. Its three Olympians are Carrie Englert (1976), Brandy Johnson (1988), and Elise Ray (2000).
Miami: This is the second Florida city with multiple gymnasts. Although neither competed for the United States. The first is the previously mentioned 2008 Spanish gymnast Lenika De Simone. The second is 2012 Colombian gymnast Jessica Gil Ortiz.
San Jose: Surprisingly, the second city in California is not San Francisco, but the nearby city of San Jose. Amy Chow is from San Jose, while Tracee Talavera is from Santa Clara. The two cities border each other.
Virginia: This isn’t so much a city, but two gymnast being born in roughly the same area. The first is 1988 Olympian Hope Spivey who was born in Norfolk. The second is Gabby Douglas who was born in Newport News. They are two administrative districts that are very close to each other in much the same fashion as Santa Clara/San Jose. The only difference is a small body of water separates them.
Plainview, Texas: This is probably the most surprising result in the data. Texas is known for being a breeding ground for gymnasts. Usually having a couple of big names in any given Olympic quad. But Texas’ prowess as a WAG power is associated with its major metropolitan areas in East Texas and North Texas, not the extremely rural region of West Texas.
But Plainview which is located in a relatively isolated portion of the state and a population of roughly 22,000 has not one, but two Olympic WAGs. More surprisingly, this is all coincidental. The gymnasts in question competed two decades apart and have virtually no connection to each other. In fact, they hardly any association to the state of Texas. Let alone a small town located in rural Texas.
The first was Kathy Howard who competed at the 1976 Olympics and trained in Oklahoma City. The second was 1992 Olympian Wendy Bruce who trained in Florida. Their place of birth being Plainview, Texas is the only connection the gymnasts have with each other.
Dallas-Fort Worth: This is the hub most gymnastics fans have been waiting for, but in the OlyMadMen data there are only two gymnasts from this metropolitan area. They are Courtney Kupets (Bedford) and Madison Kocian (Dallas). And as many gymnastics fans are aware, Kupets grew up and trained in Maryland.
So why aren’t there more gymnasts in this particular hub? Its most iconic homegrown star was Nastia Liukin who was technically born in Moscow. Its other All-Around Champion was Carly Patterson who is listed in the data as being born in Louisiana. Most of the iconic gymnasts associated with a high profile Texas gym such as Mary Lou Retton, Rebecca Bross, Simone Biles, Ragan Smith, Dominique Moceanu, and Katelyn Ohashi were all born outside the state of Texas. In most cases, they already established themselves as notable novice/junior level WAGs in other states before transitioning to a high-profile club in Texas.
Kim Zmeskal (Houston) is one of the few examples of a gymnast who started and finished her career in Texas. There is also Mary Wright of San Antonio who brings the legacy of Texas gymnastics all the way back to the 1936 Olympics.
Texas would benefit greatly if I used “club affiliation” rather than “place of birth” to classify which state each gymnast is from. However, the OlyMadMen database is “hit or miss” recording club affiliation in some years, but not others. It needs to be remembered that OlyMadMen has 136,000 Olympians in its database. For WAG fans, tracking the success of WOGA is a high priority. For Olympic researchers who must give equal attention to every sport, it is relatively low on their list of priorities.
Furthermore, OlyMadMen is a high-level, no-nonsense group of researchers who take the accuracy of their work seriously. Where a gymnast was born is a matter of fact that can’t be open to multiple interpretations. Athletes frequently change training locations making it both difficult to record that information, as well as presenting subjective interpretations of how long a gymnast must train at a particular club to have it recorded as her “main” club.
Another logistical difficulty, a city is something that permanently exists and has been producing athletes for 100+ years. It will continue to produce athletes over the next 100+ years. Whereas OlyMadMen would need to constantly be making new pages for clubs that have existed for less than a decade, and folded after producing no more than one Olympian. With that in mind, it is understandable why OlyMadMen has nearly a complete data set on place of birth, while avoiding club origin.
Wisconsin: Despite its status as the only state in the Midwest without a major NCAA program, Wisconsin has six Olympic WAGs. Milwaukee has a hub of two gymnasts, while two more gymnasts are located relatively close to the University of Wisconsin. The entire Midwest comes off appearing as a bastion of gymnastics, and this isn’t by accident. It represents the history of the Midwest being a major population and economic hub of the United States for much of the 20th century.
As a result, the Midwest also has a massive amount of sports history to go along with it. It was the Midwest that gave rise to the NFL as well as the Big Ten which used to be the most influential conference in the NCAA. At one point, the Big Ten and NCAA actually shared their headquarters in the same office. In a testament to just how fixated sports administrators were on the Midwest and Northeast and paid little attention to other regions, prior to the 1950s the St. Loui Cardinals were the Southern and Western most Major League baseball team.
Chicago: Despite its status as one of the largest cities in the country, and the regional capital of the Midwest, it produced just two total Olympians. One belonging to a Suburb and not the city itself. Below is a map of every state demonstrating how many Olympians each state has.