Alys Williams went from Rio alternate to Tokyo Olympian

United States v ROC - Tokyo 2020 Olympic Waterpolo Tournament women
Photo by Marcel ter Bals/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Author’s note: The U.S. women’s water polo will compete in the gold medal game against Spain at 3:30am ET on Saturday, August 7, 2021. The game will air live on USA or can be live streamed via this link.


When the U.S. women’s water polo team won Olympic gold five years ago in Rio, Alys Williams was there. Well, kind of. As the last player cut from the 2016 Olympic team, she paid her own way to Brazil and watched from the stands with tears in her eyes. 

“I was partly crying because I was so excited for them. They’re about to win a gold medal … and then I partly was crying because I was bummed that I wasn’t in the water with them, which I didn’t realize till later. It was hard to watch, but also I was proud,” she told The Associated Press in May. 

The experience of seeing her friends win gold motivated her to return to water polo in the hopes that she’d be named to the 2020 Olympic team. 

“My choice was to come back and to enjoy this process with them one more time. And regardless of the end result, how this turns out, I think I’ve tried my best to take advantage of this. Especially in these last five years, I’m just enjoying the process,” Williams said to four-time Olympian Brenda Villa in May.

Road to Tokyo

Early last year Williams and the rest of the water polo team traveled across Australia and the Netherlands ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until the coronavirus pandemic stalled those matches. Williams returned home to Huntington Beach, California, to train for what she hoped would be her first Olympic Games, delayed untilJuly 2021. 

But the available training facilities were less ideal for an Olympic hopeful. 

Williams made her way to a local community pool, doing her best to find times where none of her neighbors might pop in for a dip. Her new training facility wasn’t great for laps – it only took four strokes for Williams to swim the length of the pool. 

“But it does have a deep end where I’m able to egg beater and pass and do some drills with the balls, and that’s nice,” Williams said to USA Water Polo last July. Williams said her dryland training was critical until she could resume training with the national team. 

Team USA Water Polo Practice Session
LOS ALAMITOS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 23: Alys Williams #12 of USA Women’s Waterpolo passes the ball during practice on February 23, 2021 in Los Alamitos, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

USA Water Polo returned to competition in May 2021 with exhibitions against Canada and Hungary ahead of the FINA World Super League Final in June. When the final 13-player U.S. Olympic roster was named in June, Williams’ name was on it. The defender is the first woman to be the last cut from the previous Olympic roster to make the next Olympic team, per USA Water Polo.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Jordan Raney explains how it feels to be the last player cut from the 2016 U.S. Olympic water polo team

Overcoming the Obstacles

Retired USA water polo player and three-time Olympian Kami Craig is thrilled to see Williams and her other former teammates return to the gold medal game, especially considering this was a four-year-turned-five-year Olympic cycle like no other. 

“The amount of adversity that these athletes and the women’s water polo team had to go through is really unheard of … this is truly their own path,” Craig told On Her Turf Friday afternoon. “I was a part of the 2008, ‘12, and ‘16 Olympic teams and there’s no way that I could even imagine what this experience has been like.” 

Williams and the United States had what Craig called a “rocky Olympics” – losing to Hungary and struggling in the semifinal match against the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). The U.S. beat ROC 18-5 in pool play but had to battle from behind to win 15-11 in the rematch. 

Craig is not worried about that. The hiccups are what put the Olympics into perspective and prepare you to be one of the last teams standing. 

“You don’t arrive to the Olympic Games ready to play your final game. The tournament itself will continue to prepare you for the last game you play,” Craig said. 

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Where are the women? Muffet McGraw and Noelle Quinn detail current coaching landscape

The game within the Olympic Games is to settle the nerves and approach every match with a balance of confidence and humility so you learn from your mistakes quickly enough to win and advance. Current team captain Maggie Steffens alluded to this very process after the close win against ROC. 

“Every game is different. Every game is unique. That was definitely intense but for me, every semifinal in the Olympic Games I’ve been a part of has been really close,” she said postgame. 

Steffens scored three goals on six total attempts against the ROC and became the all-time leading Olympic scorer in women’s water polo history. Williams also contributed a goal of her own in the comeback win to place the United States in the gold medal game against Spain on Saturday, August 7. 

Williams, Steffens, and the remainder of the women’s water polo team have arrived to the final game of the tournament just like every Olympic team before them. There is a legacy of success on the line. 

Londen Olympics / Water Polo: Final Women
2012 London Olympics, Water Polo: Final Women Team Usa Gold Medal Celebration (Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

It is a legacy of success that Williams recalls idolizing back before she made her Olympic debut.

“I felt connected to them,” Williams told USA Water Polo. “I didn’t know too much about them individually, but one person who stood out was Kami Craig. I thought she was just the coolest most badass player I’d ever seen play, and she was probably my favorite player to watch in the pool.” 

Five years ago, Williams paid her own way to watch Craig be among the players to win gold in Rio. Now, it will be Craig watching Williams from her California home surrounded by old teammates and family. She has seen Williams put in the work and make the proper corrections. Craig believes it’s made all the difference for Alys in her first Olympic Games. She admires how much Williams has grown since being the last cut from the Rio squad.

“The way that she just puts her head down and grinds is something that as a teammate, you can really trust. She’s consistent and authentic and I’m just proud of her. I’m proud of all of them.”

Follow Erica L. Ayala on Twitter @Elindsay08

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During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that will stream for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show kicks off on Saturday, July 24, and will stream every day of the Games (Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET).

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.