TOKYO – Members of the U.S. women’s water polo team, two-time defending Olympic gold medal champions, were ushered into the “medium’’-sized press conference room here for its first press conference. There were plenty of empty chairs, too.
“Unfortunately, they’re not thrust into the media and into the limelight like some of the other sports,’’ coach Adam Krikorian said of his players. “But I’ll tell you what, these women are as badass as it gets.
“And I’ll put these women up against any team in the world in any sport.’’
For now, they’re sticking to water polo – and it looks like everybody else is playing for silver.
On Saturday, the Americans looked like their badass selves, routing Japan 25-4 at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre in the first of their four preliminary round games. Nine players scored for the Americans.
“There’s a ton of inspiring stories on our team… because of the type of people these women are,’’ Krikorian said during that opening press conference a day before his team’s game against Japan.
Stories worth knowing:
• Kaleigh Gilchrist, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was celebrating the team’s third straight world championship in 2019 in South Korea when a balcony at a nightclub near the athletes’ village collapsed.
Two people died. Gilchrist suffered a leg injury that required surgery.
She was grateful to be alive, but went through a grueling rehabilitation process before she could rejoin the team. On Saturday, she scored twice.
“Going through something super traumatic and being able to overcome that creates a lot of inspiration within our team,’’ teammate Maddie Musselman said. “It’s been really cool to see, not only to score a goal here at the Olympics, but just to be here, is really special.’’
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• Ashleigh Johnson, who at the 2016 Olympics became the first African American to play for the women’s water polo team, is juggling her role in and out of the water. On Saturday she had 15 saves, and the day before made it clear she wants to inspire others.
“My message to young girls who might be singled out because of their race and might be trying to reach a really big goal is that the thing that makes you different is something that makes you unique, special and inspirational,’’ she said. “And it took me a long time to realize that.’’
• Maggie Steffens, who is the active scoring leader in Olympic competition with 43 goals, scored five more on Saturday. She needs just five more goals to overtake Italy’s Tania Di Mario, now retired, as the all-time scoring leader in Olympic competition.
“To be honest, I did not know that at all until actually I got asked that question,’’ she said. “…I would say water polo still has some work to do in tracking down history.’’
The Americans are primed to make history as the first three-peat Olympic champions, which in the words of their coach would be nothing short of badass.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Tokyo Olympics: US women's water polo team crushes Japan