Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Water Polo
It’s time to follow the Pac-12 to Rio! Leading into the 2016 Olympic games, Pac-12 Networks Insider will profile its on-air talent with Olympic ties. Whether they’re broadcasters, competitors or have accomplished both feats, we have you covered.
This week, Pac-12 Networks Insider features two of our water polo analysts who have achieved Olympic success: Chris Dorst, member of the 1984 men’s silver medal team, and Adam Krikorian, head coach of the 2012 women’s gold medal team.
Athletes spend years training for a shot at the Olympics. For few, that strenuous process finally results with one being able to say they are selected to represent their country as one the best in the world. The ability to say, “I am an Olympian” is a big deal to the competitors who never stopped working for that dream and persevered through setbacks.
Chris Dorst did not make it to the Olympics on his first try. He was not allowed to.
Despite an impressive and confident U.S. water polo team in 1980, the United States’ conflict with the Soviet Union over their invasion of Afghanistan prohibited all American athletes from attending the Olympics in Moscow.
“In early January, President Carter made some announcement about potentially boycotting the Olympics,” Dorst recalls. “I remember I was training with a buddy of mine. We kind of looked at each other and said they’d never do that, what a stupid thing to do. Who in the world would consider doing something like this? I remember I started growing a beard in January, as kind of a defiant thing, saying, ‘I’m not going to shave until he changes his mind.’”
Dorst, a member of the U.S. national water polo team that year, had a full beard by March when each U.S. Olympic team had a chance to send a representative to the White House for a dialogue with President Jimmy Carter to find out the situation.
“There wasn’t much of a dialogue. At that point we were pretty convinced it wasn’t going to happen. We kept training through the summer if, for some reason, things changed.”
Around June, Dorst and his team were in Europe for a tournament. They had just beaten up on a number of teams that were heading to the Olympics.
“We were 21-year-old kids in a hotel room in Copenhagen with a bathtub full of beer. We actually debated whether or not we ought to just say, ‘To hell with it, let’s get on a train, head east, and try to get into the Soviet Union.’ We didn’t want to defy anybody or make a political statement, we just wanted to play.”
The boycott was never lifted; Dorst and his team missed out on the 1980 Olympics despite being the favorites.
“After that I pretty much retired; I went to graduate school. I thought, ‘I’ve gone as far as I could possibly go.’ I couldn’t have done any better, we won a national championship at Stanford, and we had done really well internationally. It was sort of ‘okay, I’m done, I’m moving forward.’”
Although Dorst was not anticipating playing water polo again, he was invited by a coach to come back and try out for the team.
“I still kind of had that itch. So I started training again after that. And it was not easy, not easy at all. When you’re young and naive you think okay, I’ll get up at five, train for a couple hours, Go to work, train after work for a couple hours, go home, crash, and then do it all over again. I’m just going to keep doing this until either I collapse or something falls apart.”
Dorst made the team as one of two goalkeepers and the U.S. would go on to win silver at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. At those games in Southern California, a ten-year-old Adam Krikorian looked on, hoping to one day be an Olympic medalist himself.
Krikorian first started dreaming of being an Olympian after watching the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980.
“Those moments really inspired me to one day become an Olympian,” he says. “As I grew older I realized I didn’t quite have the ability or the talent, so I had to be creative and find a different route.”
Although he was part of the 1995 UCLA national championship team, he never made the Olympic team as a player. Krikorian found the path of coaching to be rewarding, and won eight national championships at the helm for UCLA women’s water polo in ten seasons.
“I was really fortunate we were able to attract some talented players who led us to some success.”
That success would give him the opportunity to become the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Water Polo National Team in 2009 and go after the dream he had as a kid, making it to the Olympics.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because I was leaving a place that I loved very much in UCLA. I felt comfortable there and was going into something that was brand new. But I felt confident that this was something I was interested in.”
Krikorian dealt with a learning curve at first. It was the first time he had to deal with the politics surrounding the games, professional athletes, and distractions that can arise.
“I really leaned on the experience of my assistant coaches and the athletes who have been there before. It was a very different experience than what I was used to but it was an incredible experience.”
Krikorian’s squad brought home the gold at the 2012 games in London. He says it was an incredible feeling when the national anthem played and his team took the podium. His Olympic dream was coming true.
“Coaches don’t receive medals but they all put their medals around my neck. That was a really special moment for me, personally.”
The anthem and the honor of being an Olympian touched Chris Dorst as well, after missing out on ‘80. At the opening ceremonies in ‘84, the U.S. was the last nation to walk out for the crowd.
“I’ll remember this to the day I die, the sound of 100,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. The lights are bright. We had tough dudes, the kind if you had a gang fight in a back alley some place, you want them on your team. We’re walking out and all 13 of us are balling like babies. It was so cool. It was so emotional. You kind of look around saying ‘they can’t take this away from us, we’re finally here.’”
Stay tuned for our next feature on women’s gymnastics analysts Amanda Borden and Sam Peszek coming up later next week.