USC’s biokinesiology program joins forces with USA Cycling for unparalleled educational opportunities.
BY COURTNEY McKINNON
A REVOLUTION IS GEARING UP AT USC, propelling students into the fast-paced world of elite athletics. Through a groundbreaking partnership between USC and USA Cycling, students enrolled in the master of science program in biokinesiology with a sports science emphasis will have the opportunity to apply to a one-of-a-kind internship in which the classroom becomes a proving ground, and the science of performance takes center stage.
The internship, set to welcome its inaugural cohort in January, is designed to offer practical, hands-on experience, allowing students to collaborate with top-tier athletes and coaches as they prepare for renowned international cycling events like the Paris 2024 and the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.
The inception of this innovative program can be traced back to a chance encounter between a PhD student and a three-time Olympian at VELO Sports Center in Carson, Calif. Seasoned strength and conditioning coach and biokinesiology PhD candidate Antonio Squillante and Olympian and National Sprint Director of USA Cycling Erin Hartwell crossed paths while Hartwell was preparing for a national team session and Squillante was finishing a workout.
“We hit it off over our parallel interests in the Olympic Games, the science of weightlifting and the importance of analytics in sport,” Hartwell says. “We developed an interest in working together, with Antonio helping to craft the strength and conditioning plans for the national team. He helped us elevate our strength program to an elite standard and guided our sprint athletes on their rapid and impressive physical development.”
As the duo worked together, they identified specific interventions needed for USA Cycling’s sprint program to advance to a truly world-class standard. “Considering the resource and staffing limitations of the sprint program — and the incredible potential of the intern pool at USC — Antonio and I began to explore if collaboration was possible between USC and USA Cycling,” Hartwell explains.
Squillante’s passion for this internship runs deep due to his strong ties to USC and profound love for the university. “When I applied to the PhD program, I only applied to USC,” he says. “I didn’t shop around. The culture and vision of the school is what brought me here.”
Entering the program after a successful 15-year career as a strength and conditioning coach equipped Squillante with a unique perspective — one he wanted to share. “I saw this internship as an opportunity to give back,” he explains. “I wanted to give students a glimpse into what they’ll be doing after they graduate.”
In fact, it’s an internship Squillante wishes he had as he was coming up. “Since a program like this wasn’t available to me, it took me longer to climb the ladder, make connections and be offered job opportunities,” he explains. “I didn’t want the students at USC to go through the same thing.”
Thanks to Squillante’s strong advocacy of the program, they won’t. Students who complete the internship will walk away with unparalleled hands-on experience and an impressive addition to their resumé: contributing to a national-level team’s Olympic success.
Unlike internships that emphasize either sports science or strength and conditioning, the USC-USA Cycling partnership offers a blend of both — at the highest level of competitive sport possible. Students can engage in coaching, primarily focusing on strength and conditioning in the weight room and working with athletes for testing and program design. They can also explore data analytics by gathering performance metrics — such as power, torque, cadence and speed — from equipped bikes, identifying areas for improvement and providing valuable insights to the coaching team regarding on-track performance and potential enhancements.
The internship is designed to operate year-round, admitting a fresh cohort every six months. However, Squillante points out, “that doesn’t mean their time at USA Cycling is limited to six months. Our goal is to keep them around as long as they wish.”
When you have a mutually beneficial partnership, it’s natural to want to see it grow, and Squillante is already envisioning its evolution. “USC has a wealth of students in the DPT program, so we’d like to extend the internship to physical therapy students,” he says. “They would focus on injury prevention, pain management and even data analysis. We’d like to branch out to research as well. Track cycling doesn’t get much exposure in papers and scientific journals, so for the most part, it’s untapped territory. Eventually, we’d like to cover the entire spectrum of career outcomes our program can offer.”
For now, Hartwell is acutely focused on one thing — winning — and he’s excited to leverage this new partnership in the team’s relentless pursuit of Olympic Gold at LA28.