Congratulations, Wyoming. You’re the most Olympian state in the union.
The United States Olympic Committee officially unveiled its 530-athlete roster for the London Games. And sure, more Olympians come from California – 128 – than any other state, by far (New York and Pennsylvania are tied for second, with 35). But when you’ve got almost 38 million people living within your borders, it’s not as hard to produce all those athletes. Trying being Wyoming – 568,158 strong – and suiting up two of your own in London. Now that’s an Olympian accomplishment.
Using 2011 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Wyoming is tops in the country for Olympians produced per-capita. Wyoming has one athlete for every 284,079 people living in the state; California finished in second, with an athlete per 294,468 people. Rounding out the top five – Vermont (one per 313,216), Hawaii (one per 343,703) and Oregon (one per 351,987).
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Five states – New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina and South Dakota – aren’t sending any Olympians to London. Of these, South Carolina should be most disappointed: the Palmetto State has 4,679,230 people, tops among those with no hometown reps. The District of Columbia (617,996 people) was also shut out. Of those states sending at least one Olympian, the five who performed most poorly per capita were Wisconsin (one per 1,427,942), Indiana (1,629,231), Oklahoma (1,895,754), Alabama (2,401,370), and Tennessee (3,201,677).
Olympians Brett Newlin, a rower, and Jennifer Nichols, an archer, hail from Wyoming. The state is no Olympic neophyte. Rulon Gardner, who famously upset world champ Alexander Karelin of Russia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, grew up on a dairy farm in tiny Afton (population 1,911). Heather Moody won a silver medal in water polo at the 2000 Olympics, as well as a bronze in Athens. Wyoming is the hometown for two throwing medalists – John Godina, who won a silver in Atlanta and bronze in Sydney, in shot put, and Lance Deal, a 1996 silver medalist in the hammer throw.
When told that Wyoming was the per-capita champ, governor Matt Mead, a Republican, was pumped. “We’re glad to hear it,” Mead says. “It’s wonderful.” Mead is the nephew of Andrea Mead Lawrence, who in 1952 became the first American alpine skier to win two golds at any Olympics (she hailed, however, from Vermont). Mead credits Wyoming’s clean air, and outdoor ethos, for spawning so many (okay, two) Olympians. “We’re naturally very athletic in terms of our interests, in terms of what our kids do,” says Mead. “It’s just part of what we do.” Running, biking, skiing, rafting, hunting and fishing are all popular in Wyoming. So Wyoming’s Olympic prowess shouldn’t surprise us? “No, of course not,” Mead says. “Wyoming’s a player.”
Mead extends his sympathies to the Golden State. “Well, to our friends in California and Governor [Jerry] Brown, tell ‘em that, you know, it’s the Olympic season, and we’ve got the gold,” says Mead. “But nothing wrong with silver.”