July 28, 2021

Led by Water Polo Star Johnson, Rowers and Fencers, PU Athletes Off to Good Start at Tokyo Olympics

REACHING FOR GLORY: Ashleigh Johnson leaps to make a save during her career with the Princeton University women’s water polo team. Last weekend, Johnson ’17 helped the U.S. women’s water polo team get off to a 2-0 start in Group B pool play at the Tokyo Olympics. Johnson, who helped the U.S. take gold at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, made 15 saves as the Americans routed Japan 25-4 last Saturday in its opening contest. The U.S. defeated China 11-7 two days later and will look to keep rolling as it plays Hungary on Wednesday in its next Group B matchup. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After producing a dominant run to the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, Ashleigh Johnson and the U.S. women’s water polo team picked up where they left off as they got into action at the Tokyo Olympics last weekend.

Former Princeton University star goalie Johnson and the U.S. routed Japan 25-4 last Saturday in the opening contest of Group B pool play.

Johnson, who became the first African American to make the U.S. Olympics women’s water polo team when she starred at Rio, finished with 15 saves before being pulled for the fourth period. The 25 goals tallied by the U.S. are the most it has scored since a 23-22 shootout victory over the Netherlands at Princeton for the 2019 Holiday Cup.

Two days later, Johnson and the U.S. overcame a 4-2 deficit against China and pulled away to an 11-7 victory. The U.S., which also won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, will look to keep rolling as it plays Hungary on Wednesday in its next Group B matchup.

Another former Princeton standout, Gevvie Stone ’07, enjoyed success on the water as she and partner Kristi Wagner rowed the U.S women’s double sculls to a spot in the A Final after rallying for a third-place finish in the A/B Semifinal on Saturday at the Sea Forest Waterway near Tokyo Bay.

Stone and Wagner were sixth at 500 meters of the semi but trailed Australia by just .17 seconds for fourth and France by .28 seconds for third at 1,000 meters.

The U.S. pair made a push in the second half of the 2,000-meter race and eventually surpassed Australia for the crucial third position at 1,500 meters. In the last 500 meters, France came from fifth to give the United States a challenge, but Stone and Wagner held them off to take third.

They clocked a time of 7:11.14 in finishing third with the Netherlands winning in 7:08.09 and Canada taking second in 7:09.44.

Another former Princeton women’s open rowing standout, Claire Collins ’19, and the United States women’s four placed fifth in its repêchage. The United States was third at 500 meters but fell to fourth and couldn’t make a push towards the top two. Great Britain and Poland earned spots in the A Final as they came in at 6:46.20 and 6:46.57, respectively. The United States, which clocked a time of 6:53.26, is slated to race in the B Final on July 27 with a chance to finish seventh overall in the event if they win that race.

Princeton women’s lightweight alumna Kathleen Noble ’18 had her best finish of the Olympics taking second in the E Semifinal of the single sculls event rowing for Uganda. Qatar’s Tala Abujbara took first in 8:24.24 with Noble next at 8:31.67. Noble will race in the E Final on Wednesday.

Recently graduated Princeton women’s open crew standout Hannah Scott ’21 and Great Britain’s quadruple sculls team earned a fourth-place finish in its repêchage.

The boat caught a crab early on as two of its rowers lost their blades at the start. They rebounded to pull almost even with Australia in first at 500 meters. Great Britain just .28 seconds off the lead at the halfway mark.

Italy rallied to the lead with 500 meters to go but Australia came on late to earn the win while New Zealand was third. Australia clocked a winning time of 6:36.67 with Italy next in 6:37.44, New Zealand third in 6:39.91, and Great Britain coming in at 6:42.97. Scott and Great Britain were slated to race in the B Final on July 27.

Former Princeton men’s heavyweight rowing star Fred Vystavel ’16 and his men’s pair partner Joachim Sutton secured a spot for Denmark in the A/B Semifinals after a second-place finish in their heat last Friday.

The Denmark pair started quickly, taking a .38 second advantage over Croatia at 500 meters. They lost their lead around 750 meters and trailed by under a second at the halfway mark. Croatia pulled away with 500 meters to go and Canada made one more push to almost pull even with Denmark. However, Vystavel and
Sutton stayed in front. Croatia came in at 6:32.41 with Denmark clocking a time of 6:36.93 in taking second.

Another former Tiger men’s heavyweight star Nick Mead ’17 and the United States 8 just missed the A Final, pushing world record holder Germany in its heat on Friday.

Mead and the U.S. jumped out to an early lead and led by .2 of a second in the first 500 meters. The United States 8 extended its advantage to close to a second at 1,000 meters, but the Germans cut their deficit in half (.47) with 500 meters left. Germany finished strongly, forging ahead to win the heat by 1.62 seconds in 5:28 with the U.S. coming in at 5:30.57. Another Tiger rowing alum Tim Masters ’15 and Australia were fourth in 5:43.66.

A third former Princeton men’s heavyweight star, Tom George ’18, and Great Britain were third in the second men’s 8 heat, trailing the Netherlands and New Zealand. George and the Great Britain group was third, off the pace by 1.86 seconds at the 1,000 meters, but could not make a push to get any closer. Netherlands clocked a winning time of 5:30.66 with New Zealand next in 5:32.11 and Great Britain placing third in 5:34.40.

The United States, Australia and Great Britain 8s are scheduled to race in the repêchage on July 27. The top four advance to the A Final.

Over at Makuhari Messe, one of Japan’s largest convention centers, former Princeton University women’s fencing star Kat Holmes ’17 was the first Tiger fencer on the strip at the Tokyo Olympics, battling South Korea’s Sera Song in a round-of-32 match in the individual épée competition last Friday.

Song took the bout, 15-12, leading 2-0 after a period and 5-2 after two. From there, Song kept at least a two-touch margin the rest of the way.

Battling hard, Holmes cut the gap to three at 10-7 with 34 seconds to go, but aside from a Holmes touch that made it 11-9 with 23 seconds to go, the final 34 seconds of the match saw a flurry of double touches to reach its conclusion a second before time in the third period was due to run out.

Holmes will be back in action in the team épée event which is scheduled to start on July 27. One of her former teammates, Anna Van Brummen ’17, is the replacement athlete for Team USA in the team event.

Making his debut in the Olympic Games’ individual fencing competition, Princeton rising junior Mohamed Hamza extended his run all the way to the quarterfinals against the world’s top foil fencers in Tokyo.

Seeded 22nd, Hamza, competing for Egypt, opened against 11th-seeded Briton Marcus Mepstead in the round of 32 on Sunday. Though Mepstead had the first three touches of the bout, Hamza answered with the next four and the fencers were never more than two touches apart the rest of the way. Hamza trailed 12-10 with 2:03 to go in the third period before tying it with two touches in six seconds, and after Mepstead had the next touch for what turned out to be the British fencer’s final of the match, Hamza ended it with three in a row for a 15-13 final with 1:26 left in the third.

A day later, Hamza’s round-of-16 match didn’t last the full first period, and for much of the bout, it wasn’t trending Hamza’s way. Sixth-seeded Andrea Cassara of Italy had the first three touches and six of the first seven on the way to a 6-1 lead. Cassara led by as many as six touches, at 10-4 and again at 13-7, before Hamza rallied with eight touches in a row to go from two touches away from defeat to a bid to the quarterfinals with a 15-13 win.

Hamza’s quarterfinal against 19th-seeded Alexander Choupenitch of the Czech Republic later on Monday also started out with his opponent getting out to an early lead, and this time, the opponent held off a Hamza rally. Choupenitch had the first two touches of the bout and led the rest of the way, seeing Hamza pull within two as late as 9-7 before extending the lead on the way to a 15-9 win.

In other action on the strip, former Princeton women’s fencing standout Eliza Stone ’13 made her Olympics debut on Sunday, taking on Azerbaijan’s Anna Bashta in the round of 32 of the individual saber competition, and Bashta took the match 15-9. Bashta had the first three touches, but Stone was within two touches as late as 9-7 before Bashta ended the rally there.