Magazine Nov/Dec 2012 The Coach That Blew Out of the Water

01 November 2012, 16:00
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The Coach That Blew Out of the Water

There are very few athletes in the world who can have a profound impact on their sport both as a player and as a coach. In the grandest stage of
his professional career, Adam Krikorian, head coach of the United States Women’s Water Polo National Team, showed the world how it’s done by leading his team to Olympic gold this past summer in the London games.

Adam Krikorian’s list of awards and championships is staggering. He’s won an unprecedented 15 national titles in the UCLA water polo program as a player and coach. He’s led the Bruins women’s water polo team to two perfect seasons. He’s been recognized as the national Coach of the Year five times. But his most impressive accomplishment may have occurred this past summer when he coached the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team to its first ever Olympic gold medal. Moments after his team beat Spain in the gold medal match, Krikorian was pulled into the pool where he soaked in the joys and memories of an “unbelievable” experience.

Two months later, fresh off of a congratulatory gathering at the White House with President Obama and company, Krikorian reflects on the experience in London and his tenure at UCLA from his Manhattan Beach living room. He thinks about the championships at the world level and the gold medal game, and the accolades and the praises that never seem to end.
 News flash: none of the above is the apex of his sporting career. “Winning the Most Inspirational Award at UCLA during my sophomore, junior, and senior years…that’s the highlight,” says Krikorian, 38, who is from Northern California and whose great grandparents escaped the Armenian Genocide to find refuge in America.
 The most inspirational award topped all his other honors and titles? Even the 2007 UCLA women’s water polo that won the school’s 100th national title? Even the 1995 UCLA men’s water polo team that he was a part of that won its first title since 1972? “Yes,” he assures.
One has to spend time with Krikorian to understand why a simple inspirational award meant so much more than the championship rings and watches that are packed somewhere in his garage.
“I was given the award by my teammates, and those are people I worked so hard with, day in and day out,” he says. “There isn’t anything that will top that.”

Gold Strike

The record books show the results of the London games in black and white. You either won, or you didn’t. Although Adam Krikorian figuratively won a gold medal, literally, he didn’t. “Coaches don’t get one,” he says.
“It is sort of unfortunate that coaches don’t get a gold medal,” Courtney Mathewson, a leader on the American water polo team, tells Yerevan Magazine. Mathewson and her teammates made sure to honor their coach after the Spain victory. As Krikorian looked on, each of the 13 Americans took their place on the top podium and watched as the American
flag was raised. Immediately after the ceremony,
his players draped their medals around their coach’s neck. Krikorian stood in awe of having 13 gold medals around his neck, appreciating the journey that took his team from finishing sixth in the world championships, a year earlier to being the best in the world in 2012. There is also the Krikorian footnote in the 2012 Olympics’ box scores that will soon be a distant memory. It was during the semi-final contest against Australia when for a split second everything seemed to be slipping out of the grasp of him and his team. This was when Krikorian made “the biggest mistake of his coaching career,” as he calls it. With his team leading 9-8 and only seconds remaining, Krikorian called a timeout believing that his goalkeeper had possession of the ball. She did not have possession;
the Australians took it in a mad dash to try to tie the score. Krikorian’s timeout call resulted in an automatic penalty shot for Australia. Australia easily converted the penalty shot to send the match into overtime. “I made a huge mistake in one of the biggest moments of my coaching career,” Krikorian says. He thought his blunder might cost his team a chance at playing for the gold medal. “I couldn’t say anything. I needed to gather myself. I almost kind of laughed, and I told myself to get it together. There was a longer break between the fourth quarter and overtime than usual, and that break gave me a chance to regroup.”

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