Students by day, Olympic athletes by night

By Renee Klahr on July 31, 2012

It’s widely assumed that most Olympic athletes spend every waking moment in the gym training. After all, the hours upon hours of strenuous work it takes tobecome an Olympian leaves little room for much else.

However, a shocking number of elite athletes have defied this notion by continuing their college studies while earning world-class recognition in their chosen sport. These remarkable students jam-pack their days with exams in the morning and grueling training regimens throughout the evening. The payoff? A chance to compete in the most prestigious competition in the world without sacrificing their college experience.

Here is a list of 5 college Olympians participating in the London games this year, honoring not only Team USA but college students everywhere with their efforts.

1. Sam Mikulak, University of Michigan

The 2011 NCAA individual all-around title winner and American gymnast is a rising junior at University of Michigan and the first ever from his school to participate in the Olympics. After suffering an almost career ending injury last year, some worried about his chances on making Team U.S.A. Despite breaking both of his ankles that year and sitting out 5 out of 6 events at the Olympic trials, the 19-year-old was the first male to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

2. Emma Coburn, University of Colorado

The 21-year-old track and field princess has made quite an impact during her time competing for her school’s team. Not only was she the second US woman in history to win the 3,000-meter steeplechase while still in college, her first place finish at the trials guaranteed her spot on the 2012 Olympic team. She summed up her elation for attending the games on Twitter saying, “Such an incredible walking in the Olympic Cermony! #unforgettable Now back to Birmingham to train.”

3. Haley Ishimatsu, Duke University

Standing at a mere 4’11, the California born diver trained as an elite gymnast until a 2004 elbow fracture eliminated her Olympic chances. Instead of throwing in the towel entirely, encouraged by sister, she took up diving and took to it immediately. Her background in gymnastics has since allowed her to successfully perform a three-and-a-half summersault pike dive, a move few divers can accomplish. Her talent landed her a berth on the 2008 women’s diving team, and she is a favorite to win big at the Summer Games this year.

4. Caroline Queen, Davidson College

The US women’s kayaker, who first began her career at age nine in Darrenstown, Md., can add college sophomore and 2012 Olympian to her resume. While she did not race in 2009 after dealing with a severe knee injury, she came back onto the scene with a vengeance, earning the top K1W spot on the 2012 National Slalom Team. She expressed her gratitude on Twitter at the Opening Ceremonies with a picture, captioned, “Couldn’t have asked for a better #openingceremonies! Thank you to our UK hosts #goteamusa!”

5. Alise Post, San Diego University

It’s hard to believe that BMX Super Cross Racing star Post is just 21 years old. The Minnesota native may study in California, but she truly wowed on the dirt obstacle course at the 2012 UCI BMX SX Papendal, taking first by launching over a triple jump combo. The US women’s favorite told ESPN how she has dealt with the aftermath of becoming an Olympian, saying, “I am trying to be smart about how I deal with the extra attention, because I still have my personal goals that I don’t want to detract from. It’s undoubtedly a balancing act and a learning curve.”

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