PHOENIX — After participating in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games as a member of the women’s water polo team in China, one Arizona State University student will get to experience the event in a whole new light.
Ao Gao, 25, is currently pursuing her master’s degree in sports journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is taking part in a program that sends students to report and cover the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016.
While Gao said she is excited to see the Olympics from a journalistic point of view, she also said it will be less stressful than her last two trips.
“I don’t have to go with all this game pressure,” Gao said.
Gao said she actually learned about the Cronkite program while she was in London for the 2012 games. She ran into a Cronkite reporter right after her Chinese team lost a water polo match.
“A Cronkite fellow approached me, she said, ‘Oh, can I interview you?’” Gao said. “And I was like, ‘This is so cool, you guys come to the Olympics? I want to be you.’”
Gao was a big part of the 2008 team that played in her hometown of Beijing. She said playing in the Olympics in her home country was an unreal experience.
“The first game, I remember we played against the U.S.,” Gao said. “When I walked through the tunnel and actually got to the pool and I saw so many people I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the Olympics.’”
After telling the coaching staff in China she was sick, Gao took time off from water polo in 2010 and by 2011, she decided to enroll at Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Gao could not stay away from the sport for long: She gained four years of eligibility to play for the Sun Devils women’s water polo team and returned to the pool.
In 2012, she was called back by the Chinese team to participate in the 2012 London Olympics, but Gao said the experience was more tough for her since she sat on the bench for most of the tournament.
“I always wanted to contribute,” she said. “I want to like actually go into the water and play.”
Upon returning to Arizona State University, Gao excelled for the Sun Devils, recording 43 goals as a sophomore and 38 goals as a junior.
As a senior, Gao said as much as she loves water polo, she is looking past the pool.
“I didn’t want it to be my whole life,” she said. “I always wanted to do something besides that.”
After she finishes her master’s degree, Gao said she wants to live in France for a year or two and one day work in video production for the International Olympic Committee.
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