Every State’s Favorite U.S. Summer Olympian

As the world gears up for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, the spirit of competition and global unity is more vibrant than ever.1 This grand event, a biannual celebration of athleticism and sportsmanship is set to showcase the world's most talented athletes across a myriad of events. These Olympians capture our admiration not just through their exceptional skills, but through their unwavering commitment and hard work — principles that resonate deeply with us.

In anticipation of this year's games, Grand Canyon University, in partnership with Grand Canyon Education delved into Google Trends to uncover which American summer athletes have captured the hearts and curiosities of people across the U.S.

The Most Popular U.S. Summer Olympian in Every U.S. State

Infographic of every states favorite olympians

Our study highlights the vast landscape of Olympic legends, with 45 unique athletes capturing the hearts and search interest of fans.

Shining brightly among these Olympic legends is Kim Rhode, winning the title of the most popular Summer Olympian in three different states — Alaska, Montana and South Dakota. Rhode's remarkable journey as a shooter includes being the first Olympian to win medals in six consecutive games, a testament to her enduring excellence.These states are renowned as top hunting destinations in the U.S., which might contribute to their strong interest in Olympic shooting sports and their leading athletes.3

George Foreman similarly commands attention, winning in Delaware, Louisiana and Michigan. His career features a memorable victory over Joe Frazier in 1973 and a notable comeback to win the title again at age 45. Beyond boxing, Foreman is also recognized as a successful entrepreneur and author.4 Interestingly enough, the movie made about Foreman’s life, “Big George Foreman,” was filmed in New Orleans, perhaps explaining the popularity in Louisiana.5

State loyalty is evident as fans showed strong search interest for local legends like Charles Barkley, Gary Hall Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya, who have garnered significant attention in their respective states.6 This reflects the profound bond between athletes and the places they call home.

The Most-Searched Summer Olympic Sports

Top 3

Top three Olympic sports are track and field, gymnastics and swimming. 7

Our study went beyond individual athletes to explore the disciplines they represent. The findings highlight athletes from 12 distinct Summer Olympic sports that have captivated fans nationwide. This variety emphasizes the Olympic Games' broad allure, showcasing everything from the high-stakes competition of track and field to the meticulous elegance of taekwondo, illustrating the games' exceptional capacity to display diverse forms of athletic skill.

Leading the pack, track and field emerged as the most-searched sport, with athletes from this discipline garnering the highest interest across 10 states. Gymnasts and basketball players are also highly popular, leading in eight and seven states, respectively. Their widespread appeal is boosted by the memorable achievements and iconic status of their athletes.8

The diverse array of athletes showcases the extensive influence of Olympic competitors and the remarkable depth of talent spanning decades of Olympic medalists.

The Most Popular U.S. Summer Olympians, by Sport

The allure of the Summer Olympics is magnified by sports like gymnastics, track and field and swimming, each weaving a rich narrative that captivates American audiences. To dive deeper into America's enthusiasm for summer Olympians, we conducted targeted analyses to identify the summer Olympic athletes who topped the search charts within various sports disciplines.

Starting off, we measured the search popularity of celebrated Olympic gymnasts against one another, pinpointing the athletes who sparked the highest levels of search interest overall, state by state.

Simone Biles leads as the most popular gymnast overall, captivating the highest search interest in 28 states with her extraordinary talent and resilience. Biles, celebrated for her groundbreaking achievements, became the first female U.S. gymnast to secure four gold medals in a single Olympics during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.9 Biles' exceptional consistency and the complexity of her routines have set her apart, earning her an unparalleled 30 world championship medals, of which 23 are gold, solidifying her status as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.10

The track and field arena is illuminated by the legacy of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, revered in 18 states for her versatile athletic prowess. Zaharias' remarkable journey extends past track and field. She has also participated in basketball, baseball and golf, reflecting her extraordinary talent and determination. Her achievements have left an indelible mark on the world of sports, breaking barriers and setting new standards of excellence.11

In swimming, Mark Spitz's legendary performances have made waves across 16 states, with his historic achievement of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics remaining one of the most remarkable feats in Olympic history.12 Following in his wake, Ryan Lochte and Johnny Weissmuller have also made significant contributions to American swimming, with Lochte's versatility and Weissmuller's transition from Olympic champion to cinematic icon adding rich layers to the narrative of American swimming excellence.13

chart of the most searched U.S. Summer Olympians in gymnastics, track and swimming

Closing Thoughts

Our exploration into the most popular Olympian in every state offers a fascinating glimpse into the diverse interests and inspirations of sports enthusiasts across America. This study is a testament to how these Olympians continue to inspire us.

At Grand Canyon University, our connection to the Olympic spirit runs deep. We proudly reflect on our past as the host of the Special Olympics in 2014, a moment that showcased the resilience and courage we deeply admire.14 Fast forward to the present, we celebrate our own alumni's achievements, Michelle Canidate, a 2004 Summer Olympic athlete who earned her doctoral degree at GCU in 2023,15 embodying the pursuit of excellence we encourage in every student.

These athletes represent the pinnacle of commitment and achievement in their respective fields, embodying the spirit of excellence and perseverance that we at GCU hold in high regard. Their stories of triumph and determination resonate deeply with our values, serving as a powerful reminder of what is possible when talent meets tenacity. 

Explore more about how we integrate these principles into our degree programs. Visit the GCU Athletics page for more information on our programs and how to get involved.


GCU hosted the Special Olympics in 201414


To explore the most celebrated American Olympians in each state and across key sports, we curated a list of over 100 distinguished athletes from sources like Bleacher Report and the NBC Olympics Roster, all of whom have received medals in previous Summer Games.16,17 Our analysis involved examining Google Trends search interest for each athlete by state, alongside specific inquiries for the most searched athletes within popular summer Olympic sports — swimming, gymnastics and track and field.7 This data spanned two decades, from 2004 to 2024, allowing us to capture evolving public interest. We then used high search interest as an indicator of popularity.

Google assigns a value from 0 to 100 to each search term, reflecting its frequency compared to all other searches in a region, with 100 indicating the highest popularity. This method allows us to see the relative popularity of different search terms across states. By utilizing this approach, we can identify which search terms are more consistently popular in certain areas compared to others. We hope you enjoyed uncovering the most celebrated Olympians from every state!

1 BBC. (2024, Jan. 31). Paris 2024: What you need to know about the summer Olympics and Paralympics. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.  

2 Ford, B. (2012, May 10). Kim Rhode is not your typical Olympian. ESPN. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

3 Dorsey, C. (2022, Jan. 4). Ranking America’s 10 Best Hunting States. Forbes. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

4 Mills, J. (2023, Oct. 26). On This Day: Golden George Puts The Boxing World On Notice At The 1968 Olympics. The Sportsman. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

5 Shrestha, N. (2023, Aug. 26). Big George Foreman: Every Filming Location Explored. The Cinemaholic. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

6 Zubrow, K. (2023, March 26). Charles Barkley never forgets where he came from. CBS News. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

7 Wassink, Z. (2016, Aug. 11). Ranking the Top 10 Olympic Sports to Watch. Bleacher Report. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.  

8 Little, B. (2023, Aug. 30). 8 Astounding Moments in Women’s Olympic Gymnastics. History.com. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.  

9 Grinberg, E. (2016, Aug. 16). Simone Biles wins fourth Olympic gold on floor. CBS. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.

10 The Associated Press. (2023, Oct. 6). Simone Biles becomes the most decorated gymnast in history. NPR. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.

11 Michals, D. (2015). Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias. National Women’s History Museum. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.

12 Lohn, J. (2020, Sept. 4). 48 Years Since Mark Spitz Went 7-For-7 at Munich Games. Swimming World Magazine. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.

13 Gallagher, E. (2024, Feb. 19). This Hollywood Action Icon Starred In 28 Movies, All As Just 2 Characters. Screen Rant. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.

14 Nelson, C. (2014, May 5). 1,500 Special Olympians inspire, compete at GCU. Grand Canyon University. Retrieved on March 19, 2024.

15 Gonzales, M. (2023, July 31). Former Olympian clears hurdles to earn GCU doctorate. Grand Canyon University. Retrieved on March 19, 2024.

16 Wolfman-Arent, A. (2012, Jan. 23). Ranking the 100 Greatest US Olympians in Summer Games History. Bleacher Report. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024. 

17 NBC Olympics. (n.a.). Featured Athletes. Retrieved on Feb. 20, 2024.  

Approved by executive director of Office of Communications and Public Relations on April 25, 2024 and the assistant vice president of GCU marketing on April 9, 2024.