Water polo player Maggie Steffens: Health and safety more important than Olympics

Helene Elliott
Maggie Steffens takes a shot during a preliminary match between the U.S. and Venezuela during the Pan American Games in August.  (Buda Mendes / Getty Images)

Being a member of the U.S. women’s national water polo team has given two-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens good company to help her process her feelings over the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the Tokyo Summer Games until sometime in 2021.

As a member of a team, Steffens has a big-picture perspective when balancing her thoughts about the delay against the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was just mentioning to someone about our value of always putting the team first. And right now, the team we need to put first is the world,” she said Tuesday. “So putting the health and safety of that team, the world, as the No. 1 priority is the most important thing. With that may come this decision, which can cause an emotional roller coaster for every different person, but it's the best thing for the safety and health of our world.”

Steffens, a three-time NCAA champion at Stanford, said she was prepared for the postponement but still was hit hard by the finality when it was confirmed. “It was really helpful to have my teammates to lean on and know that we’re going through this together,” she said after they held a virtual meeting.

“And also it’s something now that we know, we can work off that. As athletes, especially Olympic athletes, you’re constantly training for adversity and for the unknown. And for us usually that unknown and adversity is in a water polo game. So this is a much higher level of that. But what we do know is trying to be adaptable. And that’s the word we keep using, to be adaptable in this situation and keep relying on each other.

“Our Olympic dream is still there. My Olympic dream is still there. It’s just the journey is going to work a bit different and the end date is going to be a bit different. Once we get more information we’ll just keep planning for how we can be the best team we can be for this country.”

Steffens, 26, said she had been going day by day in considering whether the 2020 Games would be her last. Some of her teammates will have to decide if they want to continue to put their lives on hold now that the Olympics have been postponed for a year instead of a few months.

“I love the Olympics. I love competing for Team USA. It’s my passion. I love being on a team, and this team especially,” Steffens said. “I do know that there are a lot of outside factors. A lot of [people] on our team were going to go back to college after this year. Some of us have jobs or were going back abroad, things like that. And that’s definitely tough. Now we have to be adaptable and reimagine that year.

“It’s still the Olympic journey — it just looks a lot different.”