Who’s Back

The United States women: As many as eight of the 13 members of Team USA’s roster from Rio appear set for a return in Tokyo, where the Americans will chase a third-consecutive Olympic gold medal. They will be heavily favored to accomplish the feat, having won every international competition they’ve entered since 2016, including two world championships. Notable among the returners is team captain Maggie Steffens, already arguably the greatest female water polo player in history and second all-time in Olympic goals. Behind her, goalie Ashleigh Johnson is considered the best in the world at her position. She chases her second Olympic gold medal.

Every men’s water polo contender: Compared to the women’s side, men’s water polo has been relatively wide open in international competition since Rio. Croatia, Hungary and Italy have all won major titles since Serbia took the Olympic gold in 2016. All four nations have qualified for Tokyo, along with outside medal contenders Spain, Montenegro and Greece.

Who’s Gone

Tony Azevedo: The best American male water polo player in history called it a career in 2017, a few months after competing at his fifth Olympics in his birthplace of Rio de Janeiro. It was a disappointing group stage exit for the United States in 2016, but eight years earlier Azevedo led Team USA to a surprising silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, the best finish for the American men in 20 years. Azevedo retired with the fourth-most goals in men’s Olympic water polo history. He has dedicated himself to growing the sport of water polo nationally and globally in retirement.

Tony Azevedo celebrates winning water polo silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Tony Azevedo celebrates winning water polo silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Kami Craig, Courtney Matthewson: Of the five members of the 2016 United States women’s squad not expected to return for Tokyo, Craig and Matthewson leave behind the greatest legacy. Both are among just four women (along with former teammates Maggie Steffens and Melissa Seidemann) to win two Olympic water polo gold medals. Craig also has a silver medal on her resume from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Both Craig and Matthewson retired in December 2017 after being honored at exhibition matches.

New Faces to Watch

Stephania Haralabidis: Born in Greece into a water polo-playing family, Stephania Haralabidis represented her birth nation in international competition as a teenager. But after coming to the United States for high school and college, Haralabidis switched her passport and naturalized as an American. She debuted for the U.S. national team in 2018, then had a breakout 2019 leading the U.S. in goals at the Pan American Games. She is likely to be a focal point in attack for the United States in Tokyo, where Team USA chases a third-consecutive gold medal.

Johnny Hooper: 23-year-old Johnny Hooper has emerged as a star for the United States men’s team. After earning multiple All-American honors at Cal, Hooper led Team USA in goals at both the Pan American Games and world championships in 2019. His teammates have given him the nickname “buckets” as a result of his goalscoring knack