For former Cal water polo star Johnny Hooper, the Tokyo Olympics will be his first. The games will also be a homecoming of sorts.
Hooper is half Japanese and a dual citizen. His mom, who is a Japanese citizen, hopes to watch him play in Tokyo, along with someone else very special.
"It's my grandma, and she's still out there," Hooper said. "She's pushing away. She’s old. I think she’s waiting for me to compete there. I'm going to do everything in my ability to make sure that I'm there and hopefully, hopefully, win some hardware and be able to show her. Being able to go back and compete in Japan, it's kind of a dream come true."
Hooper can't wait to have his two biggest supporters cheer him on. In fact, his mother is with him everywhere he goes. Her name is tattooed on the left side of his ribs.
"I got that in high school, so I was young, and she actually doesn't like tattoos at all," Hooper said. "But I figured, she's my biggest fan and she's kind of my everything. My thought process: she can't be mad if she sees her name on my side."
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Hooper spent time training overseas during the COVID-19 shutdown.
"As the whole world kind of shut down, everyone had stopped playing," he said. "And then when things started coming back in a little bit more, a lot of us signed professional contracts to go play overseas."
He said learning different sports led him to water polo.
"Whether it was surfing, basketball, soccer, football, golf, every sport you learn all these different ways to be coordinated," he said. "I'm living in the present. I want to win. If it's a 12 and under championship, I want to win that. I want to win a high school division one championship. OK, I did that. I want to win a college division one national championship. OK, I did that. All right. What's the next thing? Let's go get a gold medal at the Olympics."