"We're obviously proud of him," Gary Krikorian says, his wife Joyce nodding in agreement. The two are sitting in the living room of the Waverly Park home where they raised their three boys. It's April 30, two months to the day before the first women's water polo match of the summer games is scheduled. They have pulled out an assortment of their son's trophies, plaques and are flipping through family albums filled with pictures of Krikorian.
As the youngest of the bunch, Krikorian says he idolized his older brothers Blake and Jason. And while he says he inherited his love of sports from the whole family, he credits his brothers for pulling him into the water.
Krikorian enjoyed soccer, basketball and baseball when he was younger — playing in multiple youth leagues. "I just naturally loved sports," he remembers of his elementary and middle school years at Bubb and Graham schools. "When I got home from school, the first thing I wanted to do was something athletic."
But despite his love for multiple sports, by the time Krikorian entered high school and seeing his older siblings competing in the pool, he had made up his mind. He would concentrate on water sports.
"I swam, basically, because my older brothers swam," he says. "It was pretty simple. I wanted to be just like them."
Krikorian played varsity water polo all four years at Mountain View High School before he was accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied psychology with a focus in business and continued to play. In his first year out of college he landed a job as assistant water polo coach for both the men's and the women's teams.
In retrospect, he says, the reason he applied for the position was to "stall entering the real world." He didn't like the idea of getting a job in an office. But in his first year as coach he realized how much he loved the work — even though the rosters he worked with didn't perform as well as they could have.
"It was frustrating to be part of a team that underachieved and a team that I thought we could have made better," Krikorian says. "Being very competitive, I wanted to make it better." The next year they did better and the year after that they won a championship.
"Going from that rough year to being a part of creating something special — after you experience something like that, it's in your blood," he says. "I just wanted to continue."
So he stayed on. In 1999, Guy Baker, UCLA's coach at the time, took the job Krikorian now holds, as coach of the national women's team. Baker was able to stay on in a limited capacity, and Krikorian began managing more of UCLA's water polo teams until 2009 when Baker moved on to become director of Olympic development for the U.S. national water polo team, leaving the coaching position open for Krikorian.
Krikorian's father says that his son's competitive spirit and love of the game are not the only things that drove him to pursue a career in water polo.
"He's a quick thinker and a student of the game," Gary says, recalling that when his son was 9 years old he would keep a detailed log of the kids on his soccer team, as well as on the opposing team. At an age where many children are still trying to get the soccer ball to go in direction they want it to, Krikorian was teaching himself how to be a coach.
Looking ahead to London, Krikorian says he is filled with many emotions: excitement, joy, pride — both in himself and in the women he coaches — and above all, a sense of "patriotism that is, at times, hard to grasp, because it is so large. … You realize that you are a part of something that is almost impossible to grasp."
The thought that he will soon be walking out on a global stage to represent his country has touched Krikorian in a very profound way. "Not too many people get the opportunity to represent their country," he says. "It's an incredible honor."