Tokyo Calympian: Johnny Hooper, Water Polo, USA

Hooper, whose mother is Japanese, will be making his first Olympic appearance in Tokyo where his grandmother lives

My current count of 2021 Tokyo “Calympians” is 43 (not counting reserves and coaches, neither current Cal coaches nor Cal alumni serving as coaches). My hope is to get to the 26 1st time Olympians and a few Olympians whose first appearance predated Cal.

Once again, Cal will have two members on Team USA’s Men’s Water Polo team at the Olympics. With John Mann now done playing after two Olympics, Johnny Hooper will be the latest Cal Bears to make his Olympic debut on Team USA, alongside Luca Cupio who is making his 2nd Olympic Game appearance.

Johnny Hooper

Sport: Water Polo

Nation: USA

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Olympic Appearance: 1st

Age: 23 (June 24, 1997)

Cal connection: Alumnus (‘18, business degree from Haas School of Business)

Cal accomplishments: Johnny Hooper is one of the most prolific scorers in Cal history. His 245 career goals (74, 75, 47, 49) put him 2nd on Cal’s all-time list, which was achieved despite Hooper missing some early matches in his junior and senior seasons for Team USA duty. Hooper helped Cal to a national championship in 2016, starting on that team alongside Luca Cupido.

Hooper made the USA Senior Team soon after the 2016 Rio Olympics and had become a mainstay. He led Team USA with 24 goals at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, where the Red, White, and Blue were able to qualify for this Olympic Games. With the overwhelming majority of Team USA coming from the Pac-12, Hooper had either faced them or played with them between high school (Harvard-Westlake) and College. For the ramp-up to the Tokyo Games, Hooper had been front and center in representing Team USA with numerous TV and Social Media appearances.

Check out this NBC video (it is apparently not embeddable) featuring Johnny Hooper and talks about his personal connection to Japan. His Team USA profile says that Hooper is fluent in Japanese.

Also don’t miss this silly, fun video featuring both of the Cal Bears on team USA, Luca Cupido and Johnny Hooper.

In the pool, Hooper is known for getting way up above the water to score goals. In a chat with Swimming World Magazine, Hooper talked about how the recent FINA rule changes to make the game less physical had benefited scorers like him.

– How in the world do you get up so high in the water? Is there anything that you do that other water polo players do not do?

It’s a by-product of being in the water a lot. My dad first took me in the water when I was really young. I have just been in the water all my life so much and practicing all the time doing leg drills and having that mentality of always adding something more. Trying to make it a bit harder and a little bit better each time that you do a drill.

Coming out of the water so high comes from being in the water all the time. I have a unique eggbeater kick. I quickly come over my hips. It’ something that I’ve been doing this since I was very young.

I am pretty flexible, but to be honest, I let my legs do their own thing. Weight-wise, I am probably stronger in my upper body compared to my lower body in the gym. I work out my upper body in the gym much more than my legs.

– How do you think that the new FINA rules will help you?

The new FINA rules will be very helpful to u the USA team. It will be to our advantage and a new style of playing. Everyone needs to adapt to the new style of play. It gives everyone a clean slate from the US, South America, Europe. It adds a new element to the game so everyone needs to master. The teams that adapt to this game will be the most successful team.

The referees and FINA water polo are trying to limit the physicality—so they are trying to clean up the sport by being very short with the whistles.  Short-term, they are trying to call a lot so there will be double the number of ejections. In the long-term, they won’t have to make so many calls because it will already be the norm that the physicality is limited. 

– You are 6’-1”. Does it bother you that people think you are too small to be successful in international play?

This doesn’t bother me at all—it gives me an underdog status that I use to prove people wrong. It’s been very successful in the past and I can use it to my advantage now and in the past.

It’s better that way. It makes me better in other things. The bigger players are better are their things and I am more successful in other things. You have to use that mentality beyond water polo as well. That is how you can be successful in life.

Johnny Hooper loves water, as his main hobby outside of water polo is surfing. Outside the water, Hooper is an ambassador for the Ocean Recovery Alliance since 2017 to protect the Ocean that he obviously loves.

We are excited to welcome Johnny Hooper, UC Berkeley NCAA Water Polo All American, as one of our new Ocean Ambassadors to help spread awareness about helping the ocean. Watch for Johnny in the years to come, as he's a continuous high-scorer and heading for 2020 in Tokyo. He grew up with the ocean, so we know he's going to be a big asset in some of our global work on reducing plastic pollution and overall ecosystem protection.

Best of luck to Johnny Hooper and Team USA in Tokyo!

Men’s Water Polo Schedule

Between July 24th and August 8th, men’s water polo is scheduled to take place at the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center. USA is in Group A and will play all other Group A teams where they will look to earn a Quarterfinal spot by placing in the top 4 (out of 6 teams).

Sat, Jul 24

USA vs. Japan

Mon, Jul 26

USA vs. South Africa

Wed, Jul 28

USA vs. Italy

Fri, Jul 30

USA vs. Hungary

Sun, Aug 1

USA vs. Greece

Wed, Aug 4


Fri, Aug 6


Sun, Aug 8

Bronze and Gold Medal matches