It’s never easy to win an Olympic gold medal, let alone three. That’s what United States of America women’s water polo head coach Adam Krikorian has done in the past nine years.

He has taken a USA team beaten for gold at Beijing 2008 into an almost unstoppable side, gleaning gold at London 2012, Rio 2016 and now Tokyo 2020, albeit in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There have been hiccups on the way, including a narrow loss to Hungary in Tokyo, but the end result was a top-of-the-podium finish.

And while the joy of winning is huge, the now veteran coach admits to all that success leaving a mark on his psyche.

“The journey over the last five years has been a bit more exhausting than usual. I’m sure much of the world feels something similar, especially when you consider what the last two years have been like.  “Combating the expectations and trying to keep the team grounded was a big challenge. And the added stress from the pandemic, the protocols associated with it, combined with a long stretch of training without competition proved to be draining for everyone involved.” he said.

The political and social climate in USA proved to be a very delicate and tense time and at times created a divide that was difficult to navigate.

“However, I feel lucky to have learned a lot about myself through the challenges that this journey has brought to the surface. And I am blessed to have been able to stay healthy through it all. There are many people in this world who haven’t been as fortunate,” Adam said.

The reaction to a third consecutive gold medal has been underwhelming because of the expectations of the general public.

“In many ways, it takes the excitement out of it, both externally and possibly even internally. At the same time, I do believe our ‘reach’ has become broader. Our sustained success has consistently put us in the media spotlight, which has allowed us to connect to an audience that is not familiar with our sport and therefore helps to grow in its popularity. 

“That is something that we are all very proud of beyond the medals, championships, etc. It has been just as much about inspiring the next generation and spreading the love for our sport.

“Outside of our direct competition, people seemingly wanted to hand us the gold medal before the Olympics even began. I viewed this as disrespectful to our opponents, the difficulty required to play our sport, and the process we were all going through to be our very best at the Games. For those who are not in it on a daily basis, it may be impossible for them to understand what is required. The success that the team has had and the development of the culture and the skills that have been on display, have come with a lot of time, effort, and attention to detail,” Adam said.

The avenue to the senior team begins at an early age with athletes identified in the

Olympic Development Programme, which is spread across the country in different zones, and funnels into the junior, youth, cadet and development national teams. 

“Our country is large in size and that process is never a perfect science, so we certainly will miss out on potential athletes at times. We try to fill that gap by continuing to search for athletes within our club and academic system, and through our dialogue with coaches and the observance of both high school and collegiate games,” Adam said.

Attempting to maintain the incredible momentum is also not an easy science.

“I view the beginning of every Olympic cycle as a fresh start. So, in that sense, there is no momentum;  just a blank canvas ready for whatever athlete, coach or staff member wants the painting to look like.”

The burning question from many is who will step away from international play and who will stick it until Paris 2024, but Adam would not be drawn on this subject.

“It’s still unclear as to who will be returning and who will be retiring. Nor do I feel like it’s my place to announce someone else’s retirement. I will never try to convince someone to play. 

3 Olympic golds, 4 World Championship golds, 3 World Cup golds, 11 World League golds, 3 Pan Am golds.
By Krikorian’s medal count

So where now for Adam Krikorian?

“As for me, it’s a similar journey and process of self-evaluation. I have put a lot of myself into this journey each time because that’s what is required to make the most of it all. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. The process will deliver benefits equal or greater the size of the time and effort you are willing to put in. However, there is also a price to pay for that type of commitment. And if I am being honest, it is still unclear if I am willing to pay that price,” he said.

“However, this is what I do know. I am incredibly grateful for all the people with whom I have been fortunate to work with and coach over the years. I have learned so much from each of them. It has been an honour of a lifetime to represent my country, the sport we all love, and the people associated with it. 

“And beyond the medals, I have cherished the relationships that I have built and the perspective and depth that comes with being a part of the Olympic movement and travelling the world. It will undoubtedly help me to live a more fruitful and balanced life,” Adam said.