USC's Olympic glory and Medal Count

Profile Picture: Rowan Ward

August 5th, 2021

The University of Southern California's history of Olympic success dates back to Emil Breitkreutz's bronze medal in the 800-meter run at the 1904 Games and has continued unabated since.

Before the Tokyo Games, athletes who went to USC had won 305 Summer Olympic medals, more than all but 12 countries. 

Since 1912, at least one USC student or graduate has won gold at each Olympic Games. That streak began when Fred Kelly won the 110-meter high hurdles in Stockholm, continued even through the 1980 Olympics, when Michelle Ford won the women's 800-meter freestyle swim for Australia, and came through again in Tokyo, when Andre de Grasse won men's 200-meter gold in Tokyo. USC's all-time Olympic great, Allyson Felix, who went into the Tokyo Games as the school's all-time medals leader, with six gold and nine overall, will attempt to add to that total in the 400 meters.

In short, no school has an Olympic medal count like USC.

B. Wayne Hughes graduated from USC in 1957, with a bachelor's degree in business. His company, Public Storage, made him a billionaire. It gave him the money to become a magnate in the Thoroughbred ownership and breeding world. The same shades of purple and orange on the side of every Public Storage location also festoon the logo and silks of his racing operation — Spendthrift Farm.

For such a heavyweight in the worlds of horse racing and business, Hughes hasn't brought a lot of attention to himself. Despite significant donations to his alma mater, Hughes has no building at USC named for him. However, he has made one high-profile nod to USC on the racetrack.

Spendthrift Farm purchased a son of Dynaformer for $360,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 2012. It named him Medal Count, a homage to USC's history at the Olympics.

Medal Count was originally entered to debut on turf at Ellis Park, but remained in the field when the maiden special weight was washed away to dirt. The Dale Romans trainee handled that footing, too. He chased in midfield early, handled being boxed in around the far turn, fought through, and drew off to win by 6 1/4 lengths. That victory earned him a ticket to stakes company, though after off-the-board finishes in the Bourbon S. (G3) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), Medal Count was freshened for a three-year-old campaign.

The year started well on the Gulfstream turf, with a late-flying allowance win. Though he never got close to the thrilling battle between Wildcat Red and General a Rod in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) on dirt, a return to grass for the Transylvania (G3) yielded a golden result. After he settled in mid-pack and rallied into upper stretch, Medal Count took over around the furlong mark and kept on to win by a  1 1/4 lengths.

Eight days later, Romans took a shot — he ran Medal Count back in the Blue Grass S. (G1). The gambit paid off. Medal Count captured silver, and continued to the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Medal Count was one of many in that 2014 Kentucky Derby who had a rough time. He got shuffled back into the first turn, then steadied hard in mid-stretch, when Danza bumped him. Even so, he kept on to run eighth. He then proved that Dynaformer stamina with a bronze medal in the Belmont S. (G1), behind only Tonalist and Commissioner.

Two starts later, he went long again, this time on turf, in the 1 5/16-mile Dueling Grounds Derby. The stretch run was one of the most electrifying of 2014, as Medal Count and pacesetter My Afleet declared that final quarter-mile dueling grounds, indeed. At the wire, My Afleet got his nose down, but Medal Count lost nothing in defeat.

Medal Count didn't always win, but no matter what surface he ran on, he tried. He was a graded winner on dirt and Grade 1 placed on both dirt and polytrack. For a horse given such a shining name, he had plenty of reason to hold his head high, as he retired to stud in Kentucky and later Ohio.