Women's Water Polo Preview

The U.S. women’s water polo team will travel to Tokyo as two-time defending Olympic champions and the favorite to win the gold medal once again. Currently ranked No. 1 in the world, Team USA has held the top world ranking since winning the 2014 FNA) World Cup. The U.S. women’s team is also the reigning champions of the FINA World Championships, FINA World Cup, FINA World League and Pan American Games.

Team USA won its first gold medal in women’s water polo at the Olympic Games London 2012, and has since become a juggernaut, compiling a 37-0 record in 2019. As part of the run, Team USA compiled a 69-game win streak that was snapped January 2020 in Australia, the first loss for Team USA since April 2018. The streak is believed to be a record for women’s water polo in the modern era. With great success comes great pressure, however, and Team USA is the team to beat ahead of the Tokyo Games.

Led by veteran coach Adam Krikorian, the U.S. women’s team returns eight gold medalists from the Rio Games, two of whom having also won a gold medal at the London Games. Captain Maggie Steffens won MVP honors at both the London and Rio Games, and she is joined by a cast of top-flight talent. Ashleigh Johnson, considered the best goalkeeper in the world, anchors a defense bolstered by two-time Olympic champion and two-way threat Melissa Seidemann.

The rest of the team features Olympic and world champions who have played for professional teams in Hungary, Spain, Greece and Australia. The U.S. women will battle with nine other countries in Tokyo, an increase of two from Rio, for the gold medal. The U.S. is the only nation to medal in women’s water polo at every Games since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2000.

Updated on July 6, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• A variety of changes are at play in the Tokyo Games. Roster sizes have been trimmed down from 13 to 12, with each nation declaring 12 active players before each match. Also, several new rules will make their Olympic debuts, including the six-meter line, increased penalty shot opportunities and “hockey” substitutions.

• The U.S. women’s national water polo team will look to continue its dynasty in Tokyo. The two-time defending Olympic champions have shifted into another gear over the last six years, winning three world championships titles, three World Cup crowns, two Pan American Games gold medals and six world league titles.

• In 2016, Ashleigh Johnson was the first Black woman to earn a spot on a U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team, and she was a star in goal on the way to a gold medal in Rio. After taking a year off in 2017 to finish school at Princeton University, Johnson returned with a renewed focus both in and out of the water. She’s embraced her platform as an athlete to promote water polo and aquatics to all, and she is working with her sister Chelsea to create clinics and swim events in her hometown of Miami.

• In the hours after winning the 2019 world title, Kaleigh Gilchrist was seriously injured in a night club collapse in Gwangju, South Korea. With several deep lacerations to her left leg that required more than 100 stitches, Gilchrist was millimeters away from a potential career-ending injury. While her teammates won Pan Am Games gold in Lima, Peru, Gilchrist had surgery in South Korea and returned home to begin an arduous rehab. She’s dubbed the rehab the “Mamba Mission” in honor of her favorite basketball player, the late Kobe Bryant. Bryant and Gilchrist had met a few times in Southern California and had traded messages following her injury. 

• Maggie Steffens has been a key player at the last two Olympic Games, and at 28 years old, she is in the prime of her career with no signs of slowing down. Several of Steffens’ best offensive performances have occurred at the Olympic Games, and she will look for another MVP-worthy performance at the Tokyo Games.

• A gold medalist from the Rio Games, Rachel Fattal also has two world championships gold medals and a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. Fattal, 27, was named MVP of the 2015 world championships. She trained with the national team in 2012 as a high school student and has been a member of the team since 2013.

• Rio gold medalist Maddie Musselman missed the summer of 2018 recovering from shoulder surgery, but has been a key player for Team USA since returning. Musselman earned MVP honors at the 2019 FINA World League Super Final, where Team USA clinched an Olympic berth for the Tokyo Games. A standout at UCLA, Musselman is one of the younger members of Team USA at 23.


• July 24, 2021: The U.S. faces Japan in the preliminary round in the first game of Olympic competition
• July 26, 2021: U.S. vs. China
• July 28, 2021: U.S. vs. Hungary
• July 30, 2021: U.S. vs. Russian Olympic Committee
• August 3, 2021: Quarterfinals
• August 5, 2021: Classification matches and semifinals
• August 7, 2021: Classification matches and bronze- and gold-medal matches