Men’s Olympic Water Polo Medals Up For Grabs In Rio

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

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Commentary by Dan D’Addona

The oldest team sport in the Olympics could be headed for its most competitive tournament yet.

Men’s water polo has been dominated by a handful of teams since its inception in the 1900 Olympics with Hungary claiming nine golds, three silvers and three bronze medals in the 25 Olympic tournaments, most recently winning three golds in a row in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

But in 2012, Hungary didn’t make the medal podium for the first time since 1996 and just the fourth time since 1924, leaving the tournament open for new countries to reach the medal round.

The Hungarians will look to recapture a medal when the 2016 Olympic tournament begins Saturday, Aug. 6, in Rio de Janeiro.

Four years ago, Croatia knocked out the United States in the quarterfinals, then claimed gold by defeating Italy, also a power in the sport, in the gold medal match to finish the tournament 8-0. Serbia won the bronze medal game against Montenegro.

Serbia is coming off a gold medal performance at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, after defeating Croatia 11-4 in the the finals behind three goals from Andrija Prlainović. Greece earned the bronze, defeating Italy in penalty shots.

Twelve teams qualified for the 2016 games in Rio: Australia, Brazil, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Serbia, Spain and the United States.

The United States earned a silver medal in 2008 and has won six medals in 20 tries at the Olympics — but no gold.

Tony Azevedo returns to the U.S. team for his fifth Olympics and will captain the Americans, who look to finish better than the eighth-place finish in London in 2012.

It won’t be easy for the U.S., which gets a rematch with defending gold medal winning Croatia in the first pool play round (noon ET). Meanwhile, Serbia faces Hungary in another strong opening game (8 a.m.). Brazil faces Australia (9:30 a.m.), Greece faces Japan (10:40 a.m.), France faces Montenegro (6:30 p.m.) and Spain faces Italy (7:50 p.m.) — all on Saturday.

In the second round of pool play, Monday, Aug. 8, Croatia faces Montenegro, Italy meets France, the U.S. plays Spain, Hungary faces Australia, Japan plays Brazil and Serbia faces Greece.

One bad day could mean the difference between advancing to the quarterfinals or early elimination.

The intense competition made water polo the first team sport in the Olympics and the level continues to grow with the gold medal up for grabs in Rio.

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Author: Daniel D'Addona

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Dan D'Addona is the lead college swim writer for Swimming World. He has covered swimming at all levels since 2003, including the NCAA championships, USA nationals, Duel in the Pool and Olympic trials. He is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a graduate of Central Michigan University. He currently lives in Holland, Michigan, where he also is the Sports Editor at The Holland Sentinel.

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