For the first time this millennium, Wilson High water polo legend Tony Azevedo (pictured above) is not competing at the Olympic Games, but the Bruins’ Olympic tradition lives on in Tokyo.
Wilson High School’s connection to the Olympic Games began back in 1952. That’s when legendary diver Pat McCormick–along with 800m runner John Barnes–became the first Bruins to participate in the Summer Olympics, held that year in Helsinki, Finland. McCormick won the first two gold medals of her Hall of Fame career at those Games, igniting an Olympic tradition at 10th & Ximeno that endures to this day.
In the nearly 70 years since, Wilson has had at least one representative in each of the 17 Summer Olympics held in that span (excluding the U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980), producing a total of 40 Olympians and counting.
“It is truly remarkable to have so many olympians come from Wilson High School,” said Jeff Evans, who coached at Wilson for 15 years and served as the school’s athletic director for the past seven. “As many of the Wilson olympians have come from aquatics and track and field, much of the credit also goes to our coaches, who across many decades have put in so much work to allow continuous opportunities for our Bruin athletes to grow their talent and experience success at the next level. It is also a testament to the athletic talent that exists within the city of Long Beach, and is a great accomplishment to be celebrated by our city.”
Water polo legend Tony Azevedo represented Wilson at five Olympics during his outstanding career–one of just a few hundred athletes to ever appear at that many Olympic Games. Prior to this year’s Tokyo Games, the last time he didn’t play for Team USA at the Olympics was back in 1996, when a 14-year-old Azevedo served as a ball boy during the Atlanta Games. Tony’s father, Ricardo, played for Brazil in the 1976 Olympics and was also an assistant water polo coach for Team USA in ‘96.
Wilson’s water polo tradition continues in Tokyo this summer, as Max Irving will be making his Olympic debut as an attacker for Team USA.
“Wilson is where I fell in love with playing high-level water polo and really got inspired by the guys who played at Wilson before me,” said Irving just before heading off to Tokyo. “I can remember looking at the board of previous Olympians while training at the indoor pool on campus. I was never really thinking that I could potentially do that. It wasn’t on my radar, I was just in amazement that I could be at Wilson and be a part of that legacy.”
Irving is helping to grow that legacy as one of two Olympic debutants for Wilson, joining fellow Class of 2013 graduate Riley Gibbs who is a member of the US Sailing Team. Gibbs will compete with partner Anna Weis in the Nacra 17 event for mixed two-person multihull boats.
Since 1952, Wilson alumni have won nine gold medals in swimming, diving, water polo, volleyball and baseball, with the most recent gold’s claimed by swimmer Jessica Hardy (4x100m medley) and women’s water polo player Lauren Wenger at the 2012 Games in London.
Those Games were special for the Bruins, who had a total of 10 representatives that year–the most in school history. Eight Wilson alums competed as athletes while representing three different countries in London, plus the Bruins had assistant water polo coach Robert Lynn and FINA Vice President Rich Foster serving in an administrative role.
As baseball makes its return to the Olympics in 2021, a Wilson alum can claim to be part of the only gold-medal winning Olympic team in United States history. Sean Burroughs was a member of Team USA back in 2000 when the Americans won gold in Sydney.
With Gibbs and Irving making their Olympic debuts this summer, Wilson’s Olympic streak is still going strong, with even more exciting talent on the horizon. For any eager Bruins faithful already wondering about 2024 (or even the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles), look no further than University of South Carolina freshman high jumper Rachel Glenn. The 2020 Wilson grad won the NCAA National Championship in the women’s high jump earlier this year, and finished just three places shy of Olympic qualification at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June.
Of course, a lot can change in the next three years. But fortunately for Wilson and its athletes, Olympic excellence has remained consistent for the past 70.
CLICK HERE for a list of Wilson’s Olympians up through the 2016 Games.