ROMAN KRUCHININ/AFP/Getty Images
RIO DE JANEIRO – Adam Krikorian wiped the tears from under his sunglasses, steps away from where his U.S. women’s water polo team had won its opening match in the Rio Olympics.
“I need to get my stuff together,” he said.
No one here would judge him if he couldn’t, because no one here can comprehend the emotional gauntlet Krikorian’s navigated in the last few days: Arriving in Rio De Janeiro, where his team is seeking a second straight gold medal; feeling the shock when he was told that his brother had suddenly passed away back in California; leaving Rio to be with family; and then returning to the Summer Olympics on Monday for his team’s first match on Tuesday against Spain.
“Leaving the village was one of the hardest things you do, because you’re leaving your team and your family here. Arriving back at home was the hardest thing to do, seeing my family for the best time. And then leaving again – your home, where your family is …”
He cut his words short and wept.
His brother Blake Krikorian, 48, was found dead next to his car in Linda Mar beach on Wednesday, Aug. 3. According to the San Mateo County Coroner, via the San Francisco Chronicle, he had gone paddle boarding and appeared to have died of natural causes. He was a prominent figure in Silicon Valley, having co-created the video streaming device Slingbox, which allowed users to watch their own cable feeds over the Internet from anywhere. He also played water polo at UCLA, where Adam Krikorian played and coached.
Krikorian left the Olympic Village late last week to return home, mourn his brother and be with his family. He returned to Rio on Monday.
“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s hard to imagine that something like this could happen. We talk about it as a team. You almost prepare for it. But you never expect it’s going to be you,” he said. “Their support meant everything. I love them to death. As I told them last night, sometimes the coach-player relationship is a little bit awkward. I can be tough at times, but deep down I love them all. Their spirits lifted me up.”
The team had an emotional meeting on Monday in which Krikorian thanked them for that support, and had another message: Don’t let my personal pain detract from your Olympic journey.
There’s an odd sort of guilt that sets in for the bereaved, and Krikorian said he’s felt it since returning to Rio. “I feel for my brother’s family. His wife. Two kids. So I try not to get too emotional, because in some ways I feel like that’s selfish,” he said.
“And I don’t want what I’m going through, what my family is going through, to affect [my players’] experience here. I’m going to get emotional at times. I’m going to try and keep it together. But just because tragedy hits my family, it doesn’t mean it has to ruin their experience.”
His players appreciated, and were frankly in awe of, the way their coach returned to Rio and immediately got to work, coaching them to their 11-4 win over Spain in competition Tuesday at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. Captain Maggie Steffens said his attention to the team, while feeling this personal loss, was “the moment that I really realized he’s one of the strongest people” she knows.
“Adam is one of those people that’s one of a kind. If you need him to be a father figure, he’s there for you. If you need him to be a friend, and he’s there to laugh with you. He inspires all of us,” said Steffens. “He really can be that person you need him to be. And today, we needed him to be our couch, and he was.”
After a devastating moment for his family, Krikorian returned to his water polo family and has found the comfort he’s needed.
“Their smiles and love for each other and love of being here has lifted me up,” he said.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring beach volleyball’s April Ross: