Hopkins girl eyes Olympic gold

Sports Editor

Hopkins rugby player Katie Johnson took a detour on the way to earning a 2016 Olympic berth.

Former Hopkins High athlete Katie Johnson is in the Olympic Games at the age of 24 as a member of the USA Rugby Sevens team. (Sun Sailor staff photo by John Sherman)
Former Hopkins High athlete Katie Johnson is in the Olympic Games at the age of 24 as a member of the USA Rugby Sevens team. (Sun Sailor staff photo by John Sherman)

She was cut from the USA Rugby Sevens team by the former coach last year, but there was a silver lining to the story after that coach was dismissed and replaced by Richie Walker.

It didn’t take long for Walker to locate Johnson’s phone number and give her a call. In moments, she was back on the national team, and when the USA’s roster was announced for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, her name was on the list.

Dan “DJ” Johnson, the long-time Hopkins coach who trained his daughter to play rugby, is ecstatic.

“Katie was cut for a while and came back home,” said DJ. “Then the coach, who never should have been hired in the first place, was fired. That gave Katie a chance to return to the team.”

“This has been a roller coaster ride for me,” said Katie. “I learned a lot about myself in the process. I am overjoyed to represent my country in the Olympics. I have invested so much in this. The former coach and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, and sometimes I’m not good at holding my opinion back.

“Richie Walker is a really honest coach … I am happy to be playing for him.”

Australia is the No. 1 women’s rugby sevens team in the world going into the Olympic competition, which is set to begin Aug. 6. Sevens refers to the number of players on a side. Substitutions are allowed, of course. Team USA has 14 players rostered.

Teams from the USA, New Zealand, England, France and Canada are among the challengers to Australia’s No. 1 status.

“We have the athletic ability,” Katie assured. “It will come down to continuity and working together as a team.”

Women on the team range from 19 to 35 years of age. They come from all parts of the nation. Katie, 24, is one of the young players, but still falls into the veteran category.

Team USA left for Florida on July 26. Before heading to Rio, they will play New Zealand in what Katie referred to as “a friendly.”

What are the USA’s chances for Olympic gold?

“Obviously, the goal is to go for the gold,” said Katie. “We want to play the best rugby we can. There is going to be a lot going on. We have to keep our minds on our sport.”

Contact John Sherman at [email protected]