Ashleigh Johnson competes versus Japan at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO — Talk to the U.S. women’s water polo team long enough, and you’re sure to hear it.
“As many people have said, pressure is a privilege,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said earlier this week.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Maddie Musselman repeated one day later.
That pressure comes when you’re the defending champ in just about everything. It could be applied, too, to opening the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 against the host country, Japan.
Although Japan isn’t quite a power in the sport — the team finished 13th in the most recent world championships, in 2019 — the host country always enjoys a certain Olympic boost, especially in its opener.
That proved to be the case on Saturday, when Japan came back from an early deficit to even things up 3-3 with the top-ranked U.S. team midway through the first quarter. Pressure is a privilege, though, and the two-time defending Olympic champs showed why that privilege was earned in scoring 14 straight goals en route to a record-setting 25-4 win at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre.
Following a pandemic year in which the U.S. team went long stretches without access to a pool — and 453 days between games — the game was just what the team needed to start off its quest for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
“We talked about it before our tournament began and before this game, like this is the host team, and there’s a lot of excitement that comes with that and also a lot of nerves,” said Musselman, who is competing in her second Olympics. “I was pretty nervous before this game, and I think that’s a good thing, to make it feel as real as possible, because it is real, whether theres’s fans or not, and I thought we did a really good job of that.”
Two-time Olympic MVP Maggie Steffens got things going for Team USA with a one-timer into the net just 21 seconds into the game, then skipped in another a little more than a minute later. She ended with five goals, matching that out Olympic rookie Stephanie Haralabidis. Nine Americans got on the board, with six scoring more than once.