RIO DE JANEIRO -- He wasn't sure he could leave Rio. And when he did, Adam Krikorian wasn't sure he could come back. Such is the cloud of grief the U.S. women's water polo coach has been operating under since learning of the sudden death of his older brother last week.
Blake Krikorian, 48, the co-founder of Slingbox, died, apparently due to natural causes, after paddleboarding last week in the Bay Area, leaving family, friends and associates in the Silicon Valley stunned. It left Adam, seven years his junior and the youngest of three brothers, not knowing quite what to do.
"In moments like that, you take it moment by moment and hour by hour because your emotions swing so much that it would be silly to make a rash decision early," Krikorian said. "Even when it first happened, I wasn't planning on going home; I think partly because I didn't think it was real. When you're so far away, you don't think it's real.
"Then as I sat in my apartment, I thought, 'I need to be home, I want to be home, my family needs me to be home.' And so that's why ultimately I went, and once I made that decision to go, I had a good, strong feeling I was going to come back. But that didn't make it any easier. One of the hardest things to do is leave your friends and family, and thankfully they gave me so much love and support and almost pushed me out the door to make sure I was back here doing what I should be doing."
Krikorian returned to Rio on Monday, the day before his team won its opening game against Spain 11-4, in a rematch of the 2012 gold-medal game, which the Americans also won. On Thursday, the U.S. took a 3-0 lead less than five minutes into its second-round game against China and rolled to a 12-4 victory.
Olympic veteran Maggie Steffens, 23, and 18-year-old rookie Maddie Musselman scored four goals apiece to lead the U.S., a combination of experience and youth that characterizes their team and gave Krikorian a sense of satisfaction as he struggles to get through the emotions he said have been high and low.
"It's ironic because I've given this team a real hard time over the last year about taking some ownership of the group -- not so much Maggie, she's been such a great leader, and some of our older players -- but our young players stepping up and being better leaders and more responsible," he said. "So it's ironic that, in this moment, I left and almost forced them to step up and not just rely on Maggie and Courtney Mathewson and Kami Craig and Melissa Seidemann but rely on each other and rely on themselves to get prepared."
Craig said the team battled nerves and played rushed Thursday. "You never know how they're going to show up and which way, and we're prepared for all of those," she said. "But I think there's always that bit of nerves to see how the game goes and, once you're a few minutes in, you're into your flow, into your zone."
The U.S. next faces Hungary, and, although Steffens said she and her teammates carry an attitude toward opponents of "Bring it on, bring on your best," Krikorian said his club needs to do some fine-tuning.
"In some ways I understand, but we need to be more consistent and sharper if we're going to win some tight games," said the U.S. coach, who subbed out starting goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson for Sami Hill in the last five minutes in an effort, he said, to give Hill some Olympic experience.
"We see everyone's best early on and then they cash it in a little bit. When you get to a quarterfinal, a semifinal and final, they'll be pushing for the full four quarters, and we need to be ready for that."
As for Krikorian, his team is pushing for him.
"Adam is doing great," Craig said. "I am so proud of him and his strength and his ability to stay focused through this process. What happened to him doesn't change all of his knowledge and preparation and all of his focus as a coach. He's an incredible coach, and hopefully, with a little help from us, he's staying in the moment and enjoying this experience as we are. But we're happy to have him here and we wouldn't want him to be anywhere else."