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Ashleigh Johnson ’17 wins gold with USA women’s waterpolo

Ashleigh Johnson ’17 playing water polo during her time at Princeton
Beverly Schaefer /

After a two week wait, Princeton finally has its first gold medalist of the Tokyo Olympics.

American water polo goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson ’17 emerged victorious in the women’s water polo final Friday night in Tokyo, leading her team to a 14–5 victory over Spain. This is Johnson’s second Olympic gold medal, as she was also a member of the winning US team in Rio 2016. 


The US women have now won gold at three consecutive Olympics.

Johnson and her teammates’ journey at the Tokyo Games began in the group stage, where they went 3–1, their only loss coming by one goal against eventual bronze medalists Hungary. The Americans then cruised in the quarterfinals against Canada, winning 16–5, before winning a closer match against the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) with a score of 15–11.

Spain, who had knocked out Hungary in the other semifinal by two goals, proved to be no match for Team USA on either end of the pool. 

The Americans were especially dominant on the defensive end, thanks in large part to Johnson’s world-class performance. The former Tiger blocked 11 of Spain’s shots for a save percentage of 73 percent. She also blocked all six of Spain’s shots in the third quarter.

Johnson was just as dominant during her time at Princeton. In her four years as a Tiger, the Miami native led the Tigers to a 100–17 record, while racking up numerous individual accolades, including 19 College Water Polo Association Defensive Player of the Week awards. 


Johnson holds a number of school records, including career saves (1,362) and season saves (367). She also broke her own record for single-game saves multiple times during her career, eventually setting the school and NCAA record in the 2015 NCAA fifth-place game against UC Irvine with 22 stops.

In her senior season, Johnson recorded a 69.3 percent save percentage en route to a 22–4 record and the Cutino Award, an honor given out annually by the Olympic Club to the best player in collegiate water polo.

In 2016, Johnson became the first African American woman to make a U.S. Olympic water polo team. After winning the gold medal this year in Tokyo, Johnson spoke about the importance of representing athletes of color in aquatics, a discipline typically dominated by white athletes. 

“I represent Miami. I represent people of color in aquatics. I represent this team. I represent women in sport,” Johnson told reporters. “Every single person on our team represents their own community, represents their own group, and we carry that very seriously.”

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Johnson’s win brings Princeton’s medal total at the Tokyo Games to three, with one gold and two bronze medals. Fred Vystavel ’16 and Tom George ’18 each won bronze in their respective rowing events. 

In total, Tigers have now recorded 62 medals at the summer games, and Johnson’s is the 19th gold.

Wilson Conn is a staff writer for the 'Prince' sports section. He can be reached at or on twitter at @wilson_conn.