Hopkins Olympian returns to warm reception

Sports Editor

Katie Johnson greets fans at Hopkins VFW

It isn’t often that Hopkins or any of the neighboring communities in the Twin Cities’ western suburbs has an Olympic hero to celebrate.

Hopkins Olympic rugby player Katie Johnson visits with Savannah Wade, 15, during Johnson’s reception at the Hopkins VFW Post Friday, Aug. 19. (Sun Sailor staff photo by John Sherman)

So when Katie Johnson returned from playing rugby at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, there was a large crowd on hand to greet her Aug. 19 at the Hopkins VFW Post.

They came from Hopkins, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Eden Prairie, Edina and St. Louis Park to see the local Olympian, who was personable, accommodating and generous with her time. She had no idea so many people would want her autograph.

“When you’re at the Olympics, it doesn’t feel that special because everyone there is an Olympian,” said Johnson. “But since I’ve been back home it feels really special because so many people are congratulating me.”

Johnson was one of the key players on the USA rugby sevens team that finished fifth in the Olympics with a 3-2-1 record. The highlight of the tournament for the Americans wasn’t a win, but rather a 12-12 tie with one of the world’s best teams, Australia.

With her speed, athleticism and rugby experience, the 24-year-old Hopkins High graduate was a key player in the USA lineup.

“I played the whole time in five of our six matches,” she said. “I felt very blessed to be part of the team.”

There were interesting experiences throughout the Olympics as Johnson rubbed shoulders with world-renowned American athletes.

“Michael Phelps [the record-setting swimmer] stayed in the same building as our team, and we were in the elevator with him all the time,” said Johnson. “I saw Venus Williams [the tennis champion] up close. I wish I had an athletic body like hers. She is such a powerhouse.”

Johnson went on to say, “The paparazzi was following the famous athletes all the time.”

While she had no members of the paparazzi following her around, the Olympic experience is something Johnson will never forget.

“You can’t ask for much more than traveling around the world with good friends and representing your country,” she observed. “I think I’ll try to give it a shot again in 2020. Hopefully, I will still be good enough to make the team. Our country has some great athletes coming up.”

During her party at the VFW, Johnson had the opportunity to meet some of the young players, who would like to be just like her someday.

One of those players, Savannah Wade, 15, from the Minnetonka Rugby Club, was thrilled when Johnson signed her ball.

“This is everything I’ve been wanting,” Wade said, as she looked at the autograph.

What does Wade like most about the way Johnson plays the game?

“She’s ruthless,” the younger player said. “I’m the same way, I think.”

Contact John Sherman at [email protected]