Ashleigh Johnson’s Olympic gold medal housed with family’s other sports mementos

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If Ashleigh Johnson wants to see her Olympic gold medal, the No. 1 goalie on the U.S. water polo team can fly to Miami and look at the family trophy case.

“My gold medal is with my mom,” Johnson said on “Distanced Training” with Jac Collinsworth. “Me and my siblings played water polo and swam together our whole lives. All of our participation swim ribbons are in this case, and my gold medal is in this case.”

Johnson is about as accomplished as it gets for a 25-year-old.

After the Rio Olympic title, she took a break from the national team to write her 80-page senior thesis at Princeton, graduating in 2017 with a psychology degree and the distinction of being the school’s career saves leader. She’s plied her trade professionally for club teams in Italy and Greece.

Back in 2016, Johnson became the first black woman to play on a U.S. Olympic water polo team. She was also the only non-Californian on the Rio roster.

Johnson was one of five children raised by a single mom who moved to South Florida from Jamaica. She learned to swim with her siblings in a backyard pool growing up on a five-acre farm property, according to NBC Miami.

So Johnson’s favorite memory from Rio should come as little surprise.

“Getting to see my family celebrate with me in the stands after we won gold,” she said. “It was actually really special for me to be able to look up after every game and before every game and see in them in the stands. … It was really cool for those two worlds to merge at the pinnacle of that season and what we trained towards that whole Olympic cycle.”

The U.S. women won every major title since the Rio Olympics and are massive favorites for Tokyo. The Olympic postponement to 2021 was difficult, knowing a within-reach Olympic repeat bid must wait another year.

“The first thing in my mind [when the Olympics were postponed] was thinking about how close we were, and that’s hard because you know you have this one goal in mind,” she said. “You have this one thing that you’re moving for, this date, that, you’re like, OK, there are a lot of things that can change, everything’s kind of to be decided, but this is the one thing that won’t change. And when it moved, it was a little disappointing. I had to kind of refocus myself, rethink our season and then move forward, but I was definitely jarred.”

MORE: Next water polo world championships get new dates

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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