The Ivy League is the pinnacle of competition in the American higher education system. Schools compete with one another in everything from academics and research to endowments and college athletics. In an effort to stake its claim on a rarely discussed battlefield, one Ivy League institution wants the world to know that it has the most Winter Olympians this year in Vancouver among the Ivies—and the most ever to compete in the Winter Olympics among Ivy League schools, too.
The magic number of Dartmouth-affiliated athletes who have competed in the Winter Olympics since 1924 is 110, Dartmouth College says, although IvyLeagueSports.com and its offshoot site IviesinChina.com claim Dartmouth has even more Olympic alumni, with 124. Dartmouth has nine school-affiliated athletes at this year’s games—three current undergrads and six alumni. One student, Andrew Weibrecht, who plans to graduate in 2015, earned a bronze medal in the men’s super-G alpine skiing race last week. Up-and-coming giant slalom skier Tommy Ford, Dartmouth class of 2012, will compete Tuesday. Meanwhile, Harvard University is the next closest with 77 athletes, including the current Olympic Games, where Harvard has five athletes competing. (Some peace of mind for Harvard: Crimson-affiliated athletes have more gold medals, with 16 to Dartmouth's 10.)
What sets Dartmouth apart? Skiing. It's still safe to call Dartmouth's ski team a pipeline of Olympic talent. The 100-year-old program, the first of its kind in collegiate athletics, has sent—by its own count—97 skiers to the Winter Games since the inception of the Winter Olympics. It makes sense: Dartmouth had five All-American skiers last year alone, and the program has won three NCAA titles since 1958 while competing against the wealthier, larger powerhouses like the University of Colorado and the University of Utah. A big part of that success has come from a two-feet-on-two-rafts mentality; over the years, the program's leaders have strongly encouraged their student-athletes to focus on school while still maintaining their athletic careers, a must if a young Ivy League student-athlete wants to survive all four years. That formula has worked for the better part of a century.
"With the skiing program, they try to build people who are well-rounded athletes," says Dartmouth graduate and biathlete Sara Studebaker, who graduated in 2007 and placed 34th in the women's individual 15-kilometer biathlon on February 18 in Vancouver. "People who are well rounded are more likely to be able to stick with a sport that they love and that they are good at. For me in particular, I was able to focus on skiing and get better at skiing while I was there but also have other things going on. Otherwise, you just get burnt out."
In recruiting prospective skiers, Dartmouth Director of Skiing and Women's Cross Country Coach Cami Thompson says she looks for kids who want the best of both worlds. "We're looking for kids who want an Ivy League education who can still ski the way they want to ski," Thompson says.
Of course, it only helps that Dartmouth is the northernmost Ivy League school, tucked away in southwestern New Hampshire on the banks of the Connecticut River, which dances along the Vermont-New Hampshire border. To steal a real estate phrase, it's all about location, location, location, says Dartmouth's Laura Spector, a biathlete whose Olympic training has forced her to move her original graduation date from spring 2010 to summer 2011. Spector, who competed for the school's varsity skiing team from 2006 to 2008, loves the school's place in the world, admitting that it had a major impact on her decision to go to Dartmouth.
"It's a great place for people to go to school and train and compete," says Spector, who is studying biology with a concentration in genetics while minoring in Jewish studies. Spector takes full advantage of the great school-great location dynamic that makes Dartmouth so attractive to winter athletes. She focuses on biathlon training all fall and winter and takes classes in the spring and summer, maintaining a full workout schedule throughout the year. She finished 77th on February 13 in her first Olympic biathlon.
Spector and Studebaker are different from each other in a lot of ways, and that's what makes them typical Dartmouth athletes.
"We have a thinking-outside-the-box mentality of wanting to be the best, encouraging people to shoot a little higher than the average person," Thompson says, adding that the school gets all kinds of skiers interested in different events. "Many of the schools that we compete against are trying to win an NCAA championship, so they're going to give scholarships and bring in athletes who are going to win that championship for them, but they're not necessarily thinking about how that athlete is developing and what they may do outside of winning that championship for them. Our attitude is that this is a step along the way for our skiers."
Thompson's right. It's a mere four-year (or longer) stop on that Dartmouth conveyor belt that manufactures Winter Olympians. And don't expect it to slow down. With the inclusion in 1998 of women's ice hockey in the Winter Games, Dartmouth has another avenue to raise its Olympic numbers. One thing is clear: If the battle is over which Ivy League school is sending the most affiliates to the Winter Olympics, Dartmouth is winning. Handily.
Corrected on 03/02/10: An earlier version of this article misstated the academic status of Dartmouth student and Olympic skier Andrew Weibrecht and, in turn, the number of Dartmouth undergraduates and alumni at the Olympics.