Friday, August 6, 2021

Ashleigh Johnson Goes For Two

TigerBlog has a new favorite non-Princeton story from these Olympic Games.

It seems that there is a statue of a sumo wrestler near one of the jumps on the equestrian course. This statue is one of several iconic Japanese features that decorate the course, and who could have imagined that there would be any issue, right? 

Well, it appears that the fake sumo wrestler is frightening the horses, causing that jump to have a disproportionate share of mishaps. No, seriously. TB isn't making this up.

Here's a quote from one rider:

"It does look like a person, and that's a little spooky. You know, horses don't want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he's ready to fight you." 

There are just some things that you cannot anticipate, right?  

When it comes to what you could have anticipated from these Olympics, it was the fact that the United States women's water polo team and the Hungarian men would be very much in the gold medal hunt.

Hungary has been the dominant team in men's water polo, with nine gold medals and 15 total medals already won through the years. No other country has won more four gold medals (that's Great Britain, who won the first four tournaments, with its most recent gold in 1920). Italy, with eight medals, is the closest to the Hungarians for the overall total.

Why is Hungary so good at water polo? TigerBlog did a search and found this:

A culture of aquatics and water sports, early adoption and innovation of the sport and the position of the sport in relation to the history of Hungary have all contributed to Hungary's profile in international water polo.

There are also several articles (and apparently a documentary) on the famous 1956 Olympic semifinal game between Hungary and the Soviet Union, which is known as the "Blood In The Water Game." The best of the stories that TB found is THIS one, which tells the story of Hungary's win shortly after the Soviet Union forcefully put down the Hungarian uprising.

The United States men have never won an Olympic gold medal in water polo, though they have won three silvers and three bronzes (the only medal since 1988 was a silver in 2008). There will be no American medal this time around, as the semifinals tomorrow are Hungary-Greece and Serbia-Spain. TB will take Hungary, knowing nothing about any of these teams.

Water polo was first contested in the Olympics in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris. It would be 100 years later when women first had Olympic water polo, making this the sixth Olympic tournament. The only country to have won a medal in each of the first five Olympic women's tournaments is the United States.

If you're wondering, the Hungarian women have never won an Olympic medal, though they have lost the bronze medal game each of the three Games.

Australia won the first women's water polo gold (as the host nation as well). Then it was Italy and the Netherlands. The U.S. won its first gold in 2012 and then repeated in 2016. 

Of course, Princetonians have a special interest in the sport of women's water polo, as their own Ashleigh Johnson has been the dominant goalie in the world for several years now. In fact, she has been named the best player in the world on three occasions.

As a Princeton student, she was a first-team All-American and a Cutino Award winner as the top player in women's college water polo before graduating in 2017. Johnson competed as a Princeton senior after she helped the Americans to the 2016 gold medal. Now she's back chasing a second one.

She is assured of another Olympic medal after the U.S. defeated the Russian Olympic Committee team 15-11 in the semifinals yesterday. The game was 7-4 late in the first half before the Americans outscored the Russians 11-4 the rest of the way.

Spain defeated Hungary in the second semifinal, which means two things. First, the Hungarians play the Russians in the bronze medal game, hoping to break that streak of three-straight bronze medal losses. TB wonders how much the players in that game know about the "Blood In The Water Game."

That semifinal game also sets up a gold medal match between the United States and Spain, which will be tomorrow at 4:30 in the afternoon in Tokyo, or 3:30 am in Princeton. 

Enjoy the final weekend of these Olympic Games. TB will be back Monday with more on Ashleigh Johnson and her place in Princeton Athletics history. 

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