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Ashleigh Johnson on Olympic gold, diversity in aquatic sports

▶ Watch Video: Two-time gold medalist Ashleigh Johnson on winning water polo gold in Tokyo

Powerhouse goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson is back in the United States with a new accessory — an Olympic gold medal. Team USA women’s water polo team beat Spain 14-5 in the final weekend of the Tokyo Games

It is the second gold medal for Johnson, who blocked 11 of 15 shots in the championship match. For Johnson, the gold medal represents a journey that has been years in the making.

“It is so interesting. Because everything fixates on the medal but the medal is just like a representation of this whole journey. It is so beautiful and it means so much to me. But it is, like all of the hard work of the past five years, of the previous four years, that goes into building that medal. And like a figurative sense. That really is what we’re going to hold on to. And this just represents all of that,” Johnson told “CBS This Morning.”

In 2016, Johnson made history as the first and only African-American woman on the team. Johnson told “CBS This Morning” she wants to change the sport by adding more diversity and representation to make the sport more inclusive.

“The first thing that I had to do to change that and to realize my role in it was to understand the context of exclusion and inclusion in aquatic spaces for people of color and just understand why there weren’t more people who look like me in the sport in aquatics in general. And then I realized that it is a huge responsibility. But it is a responsibility that I have the opportunity to welcome,” she said.

“I could just be a mirror that a young black girl or young black boy would look up to and see themselves in and I realized how powerful that was and how powerful that could be for someone who’s coming into our sport. And maybe has heard the stereotype that black people don’t swim or looked and didn’t see anyone who looked like them and just kind of got discouraged. So it is part of my mission to change that.”

Fresh off her win, Johnson said she plans to play six months in Greece with a professional team but would like to continue to mentor young athletes and youth of color. She wants to rest before her trip to Greece and spend time with her family. She said it is too early to look ahead to the Paris 2024 Olympics but she does hope to one day be back on the podium. 

“There is always potential. There is always the journey. But if anything, I’ve learned in the past year and a half, is that you can’t predict what’s gonna happen. You can’t. I can’t say where I’m going to be in three years. But I hope it is at the top of the podium again. And I hope it is with this team [Team USA]” Johnson said. 


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