Budapest Journal: Going Home

Budapest Parliament Building. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

As I wend my way across the Atlantic by air returning to Brooklyn, it seemed appropriate to wrap up my experience of Budapest and the 2017 FINA World Water Polo Championships.

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First, my congratulations to the winners—Croatia for the men and USA for the women. Both are deserving; Croatia for devising a strategy to beat a “golden” Serbian squad that hadn’t lost a championship in almost three years, and then defeating host Hungary in front of thousands of rabid Hungarians at the Mecca for water polo, Alfréd Hajós Swimming Complex; the U.S. for beating Spain 13-6, thereby avoiding the rash of upsets that curtailed the title hopes of Holland, Hungary and Italy.

Based on limited feedback, including the comments of Serbia’s Filip Filipovic and the silence—at least in the English press—of Serbian head coach Dejan Savic, there apparently is a “blame the referees” rationale for the unexpected loss of one of the tournament’s overwhelming favorites. Rather than weigh in on this debate, I will offer that the officials are ALWAYS to blame when things don’t go as expected.

Serbia has been playing dominant water polo for an extended period and, except for the retirements of Zivko Gocic and Slobodan Nikic, their Olympic-winning team is intact—and will certainly win again. Was it an upset for the ages? I leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to decide. Was it good for the sport? Absolutely! And, the next meeting between these two teams is must see water polo (if you can find the stream…).

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Team USA celebrates in style. Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

The other overwhelming favorites at FINA Worlds were the American women, and they succeeded mightily where the Serbia men did not. They are the only team ever to have followed up an Olympic gold with a world championship the following year. While this accomplishment may not seem significant to some—for reference, ask the Serbians what a challenge this is!—Team USA’s head coach Adam Krikorian integrated six new players into his roster of 13. Of course, it helped tremendously that the core of his 2016 Olympic gold medalists—Rachel Fattal, Aria + Makenzie Fischer, Maddie Musselman, Kiley Neushel, Melissa Seidemann, Maggie Steffens—returned; but the Americans had to contend with more change than any other contender, including the absence of goalie Ashleigh Johnson.

More than talent—though the U.S. has the best base of women’s water polo talent in the world—it’s the culture of the American women’s program that makes it so successful. In his blog 3WireSports, Alan Abrahamson has an excellent article about the creation and sustainability of Team USA’s winning culture, and how this culture continually connects the early pioneers of U.S. women’s polo with all the players—new and old—who make the cut for the world’s top women’s squad.

If there’s one regret about this tournament—which was otherwise brilliant for someone who had never experience European polo—it’s that the Hungarian women’s team did not make it through to the final. In an upcoming interview, Attila Biro, the team’s head coach, wonders how his squad, which has faced the Americans many times over the past few years, might have fared in a championship match in front of their home fans.

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Fans jam Hajos Arena for Croatia-Hungary. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

What will stay with me is the unforgettable experience of being in Hajós Arena Saturday night for the Hungary vs. Croatia men’s final. There is simply nothing in the States like this atmosphere for polo. The excitement, the intensity was unbelievable. Even the blaring music, which was a non-stop pastiche of faded (and in some cases ridiculed) pop hits like the Macarena and Oppa Gangman Style—sounded surprisingly fresh, especially with the fans so engaged.

Of course, there are other things to do in Budapest besides watching water polo. Sadly I did not partake in the much-praised boat tours around the Danube, and was too preoccupied to fully engage in the tremendous nightlife of the 7th District where I stayed,

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Boss hot rods! Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

I did manage to get out and about. One thing I came across was Hot Rod Budapest (brand new!) that offers these cool little carts with benzene engines that can hit 60 KPH. Before anyone thinks that they can hop in one and race around the city, it turns out that these are used for group tours, and a leader goes out with group to ensure that no one gets a speeding ticket!

One other novelty I stumbled upon is the Makery—a new (?) concept in fine dining. It’s a DIY restaurant; they which provides the ingredients and a video guide on how to prepare the food; you make it yourself on a hotplate at your table. It’s a totally strange concept but somehow very appealing (full disclosure: I simply had breakfast there—which they prepared). The owners plan to franchise the idea, once they prove its viability. Look for this in a city near you.

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DIY restaurant?! Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

In closing, I’d like to say that—from my perspective—the 2017 FINA World Water Polo Championships were a smashing success. The venue couldn’t have been better, the competition was for the most part exceptional, the management of the event was superb. I feel privileged to have witnessed to one of the sport’s great moments.

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Brent Rutemiller

    Great Reporting, Michael!! Thank You

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Brent:

      Thank you for this; your comments (obviously!) mean a lot to me (and many others, too).

      It’s been a great pleasure + privilege,

      Michael

  2. avatar
    Randall Scott Redman

    It is my Hope the World Aquatics Championships are broadcast from South Korea in 2019. The Olympic Channel is the best thing that has happened. Thank you Honorable Thomas Bach.

    • avatar
      Randall Scott Redman

      It was great to see beinSports cover Moscow today

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        … haven’t been able to connect with beIN Sports (http://www.beinsports.com/us/) yet; on the to do list (I believe you need a cable login, right?)

        M. Randazzo

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Randall: Thanks for the comment. I agree that the Olympic Channel is a GREAT addition to coverage of worldwide events. Plus, going back into the archives is brilliant; why not bring all that past coverage to light?

      One question: do they have the replay of Croatia/Hungary in men’s final? I would enjoy watching again…

      M. Randazzo

Author: Michael Randazzo

avatar
Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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