USA Water Polo: Johnson & Co. Laying Down the Law

USA Driver Shooting Her Way Into Water Polo History Books

By Eric Velazquez

WITH all the hype that’s been surrounding track and field this year, people might not be as familiar with the Olympics’ "other" Johnson. However, water polo’s Courtney Johnson, who has been living in relative obscurity along with the other women in her sport for the past five years, will finally get her opportunity to shine in the Sydney spotlight come September.

Men’s water polo is the oldest team sport in the Olympic Games, dating back to 1900. Now, 100 years and 25 Olympics later, Johnson and her teammates will finally have their shot at Olympic gold.

The rise of women’s water polo has been a slow one, but this year’s Summer Games look to be a huge momentum builder in the grand scheme of things. And
Johnson is a big part of it. As one of the team’s senior members, Johnson, 26, hopes that future
generations of female water polo players will realize and appreciate the efforts that her and her peers have put forth to elevate the sport to where it is today.

"One hope of mine is that people will realize the struggles and sacrifices that it has taken to get us where we are," she said. "It’s been a long time
coming, but I’m happy that we’re getting our shot at the Olympics."

Back in July, Team USA took on the world and won, sweeping its way to the gold in the Holiday Cup. The six-day tournament featured all six teams scheduled to compete in water polo’s freshman campaign at the Olympics. Johnson and company are hoping for the same end result in Australia.

Johnson, despite being somewhat less than imposing at 5-4, lends credence to the theory that "good things come in small packages." At the Holiday Cup, Johnson buried four goals, including a nine-meter, mind-boggling bullet in an 11-9 win over Holland. It could have been the deceptive power that she packs in that right arm of hers—-an arm finely carved out of years of hard work. She’ll tell you different.

"I was just trying to beat the shot clock," she said, humbly. "I was hoping, at best, for the goalie to tip it out and for us to get a fresh 35 (seconds on the clock)."

But Johnson, a Utah native, isn’t all jock. She’s also a good student, and always has been. She graduated high school with a slightly higher-than-average 4.35 grade point average, a mark that was good enough to
get her into three of the nation’s top universities—Brown, Harvard, and Cal-Berkeley. Eventually, Johnson decided on Cal and picked up right where she left off. She spent the next few years racking up success after success both in the classroom and in the pool, switching majors four times in the process. Eventually, she settled on history and political science, realizing her passion for law.

Johnson is currently a student at Santa Clara Law School, and is on track to graduate in May of 2001. "I realized that studying law not only provided me with an invaluable education, but allowed me to see how I could make more significant contributions to society," she said.

Johnson would eventually like to pursue a career with the FBI. She does have a couple of pit-stops planned along the way. One is the Olympics. The other is the bar exam. It’s bad enough that she has to sit down to take the test. But Johnson has the dubious luxury of taking it in California, where it is even tougher than elsewhere. "I consider myself to be a pretty good test taker," she said. "I was physically and mentally drained enough after the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), but the thought of taking the California bar is a little intimidating."

As intimidating as taking on the world’s best athletes in sport’s most cherished showcase? We’ll soon see.

Johnson and her teammates will dive into action on September 16, 2000, opening up with Holland in the XXVII Olympics in Sydney.

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