Adam Johnson couldn’t believe it.
He’d had some rough losses in his day, narrow losses with a lot on the line. Twice he had been the first team out of the Olympics, and twice it was because of a random, head-scratching injury that could make a man question fate.
In 1996, when Johnson was partnered with Randy Stoklos in the Olympic trials in Baltimore, the two had to win just one of their next two matches, the first of which would come against the Mikes, Mike Whitmarsh and Mike Dodd.
Thirty seconds before the match, Stoklos hit one final warm up jump serve, landed on a ball and sprained his ankle.
Johnson and Stoklos would lose the next two matches, and their bid for the Olympic Games.
Four years later, it was Johnson and Karch Kiraly, needing essentially only to qualify for one final tournament to seal their spot in the Athens Games – and then it was Kiraly who suffered an injury.
Again, Johnson was the first team out.
“Thanks for reminding me,” he said, wistfully, on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
Eighteen years have passed since just missing out on the 2000 Games, but stakes are still high for Johnson on the volleyball court.
Now, instead of Olympic berths, he’s wagering In-N-Out Burgers.
“I’ve never lost to my girls,” he said. “Now I will say that with a little asterisk, because I am getting a little bit older, and I was up 22-10 when one of the girls shot the ball over on one and I turned to go get it and I heard my hammy go a little bit.”
Johnson wanted to call it quits.
The girls wouldn’t have it.
He made a bet: Loser takes the winner out to In-N-Out.
“They wanted to know when we were going,” he said, laughing. “I’m here going ‘I’m up 22-10, and you’re telling me you’re not giving me another shot?’ And they’re like ‘Well can you go right now? Or you forfeit.’ They are pretty ruthless.”
A competitive edge, perhaps, gleaned from their coach.
This was a man who, in his first full season on the beach after years playing on the indoor national team and overseas in Italy, won five tournaments and labeled that as being “kicked around.”
From 1994-1999, Johnson, playing with an armada of partners who would cement themselves as some of the best in the game -– Jose Loiola, Kent Steffes, Kiraly, Tim Hovland, Stoklos –- won at least four tournaments per season, in fields that were stacked with one Hall of Famer after the next.
Not that his girls know it. Some of them have never of Kiraly, “and if they’ve never heard of Karch Kiraly,” Johnson said, “they definitely haven’t heard of me.”
And yet his drive is still there.
“I don’t know if I ever gave up on being a player,” said Johnson, who retired in 2000, made a brief reemergence in 2005, before retiring again. “I’m always still trying to get up a ball up on my girls who can’t get it up, just using my foot or putting it back in play if it’s over the bench or something.
“I love coaching. I feel like I have a lot to offer. If they ask questions and want to learn, I feel like they can get better.”
Perhaps even more important: They might be able to get someIn-N-Out.