The past week has been an exciting time for USA Water Polo in the London Olympics. After close wins against Montenegro and Romania, the Men’s team took a commanding 13-7 win from the British host team. However the Americans took two tough losses against traditional powerhouses Serbia and Hungary to finish off group play. As a result of these losses, the US started bracket play as the fourth seed and faced the undefeated Croatia first. Today in elimination play, they struggled against the younger Croatians and quickly got into a 5-0 hole. After climbing back to 5-2, the Croatians shut the door and delivered a crushing 8-2 victory (recap). After seven months of training together in hopes of bringing back gold, Captain Ryan Bailey and the Men’s team will return empty handed.
The US Women have been playing truly exciting matches all week long, and with better results. In three games of pool play, they beat perennial favorite Hungary and newcomer China by one goal each, and tied a strong Spanish team. This set them up for a tough match against the Italians, but they shut down the opponents’ veteran starts to cruise to a 9-6 victory. The Americans fought a hard semifinal match against the Aussies, and were nearly assured a victory when the Australian captain hit the crossbar with a shot still trailing by one in the final seconds. But with one tick left on the clock, the American coach accidentally called for a timeout without possession of the ball, an automatic penalty shot for the Australians. They converted the shot and forced the US to play overtime, where first-time Olympian Maggie Steffens and veteran Kami Craig scored to keep the victory intact. In an evenly matched duel versus Spain for the gold medal, the 19-year old Steffens simply took over the match, scoring 5 goals against the fierce defense in a decisive 8-5 win. It was a good effort for the first Spanish women’s Water Polo team, but an even better effort for the Americans who bring home the program’s first-ever gold medal.
As fun as it was to watch both teams play in London, both TV and print coverage demonstrated a general lack on knowledge and respect for the game. Not one game was shown in prime time and when they were covered, were often botched. As if they didn’t know the length of a timeout, NBC constantly came back from commercial a minute into the action, with the announcers summarizing two possessions of play in one sentence. They often had awful camera angles in critical moments, or simply displayed irrelevant graphics over game-changing plays. And while the teams were fighting for gold in London, writers in the US (who probably only watch the sport once every four years) debated the importance of physicality in Water Polo and the existential meaning of one breast popping out during live, underwater coverage of the first US-Spain game. While the wardrobe malfunction was front-page news for the New York Times, the women’s gold medal, sadly, was not.