Olympics, Men’s Water Polo: Silver Again, Team USA Falls to Hungary

By Bruce Wigo

BEIJING, China, August 24. IT was a fantastic run for the U.S. The squad came into the Olympic tournament ranked ninth in the world and 80:1 long shots to win the gold medal. Yet, this afternoon, the Americans were playing for the gold medal against the heavily-favored Hungarians, winners of the last two Olympic titles.

Coming out like heavyweight fighters, these two teams traded body blows and head shots in the early going. They scored early and so often that both starting goalies were knocked out. But midway through the third, with the teams even at nine goals apiece, the Hungarians scored five unanswered goals and went on to take a 14 – 10 decision, claiming their third consecutive gold medal and the ninth since water polo was introduced to the Olympic program in 1900.

The first half was one of the highest scoring and most exciting two periods of water polo ever played in the Olympic Games. Gergely Kiss started the scoring for Hungary on its first possession. Peter Varellas scored on a power play. Tony Azevedo punched one in on the U.S's next possession for a 2 – 1 lead. Hungary tied, but J.W. Krumpholz, the youngest player on the team, drew a five-meter penalty throw, which Azevedo converted to give the U.S. back the lead. Denes Varga, the MVP of Hungary's Junior Wrold Championship team, made it even at three. Kiss then caught U.S. goalie Merrill Moses out of position and fired a bullet to give the lead back to the Hungarians, but Ryan Bailey's backhand out of the center position tied it again. Peter Biros beat the defense on a counterattack for a goal, and Tibor Benedek added another to give the Hungarians a two goal lead, 6 – 4, at the end of the first quarter.

Jesse Smit threw a fastball into the Hungarian net from six meters out on the USA's first possession of the second quarter. Less than a minute later, Ryan Bailey drew an exclusion and Azevedo scored on the power play to bring the teams even at six. Hungary then scored two unanswered goals – Tamas Kasas from the post on a power play and a lob from Biros. After Layne Beaubien put in a power play goal halfway into the quarter, Hungarian coach Denes Kemeny changed goalies bringing in Zoltan Scezi, his starter in the last two Olympic Games. Two minutes later, Azevedo welcomed Scezi with a goal to tie the game at the 1:54 mark. It was a beautifully floating lob shot that sailed over Scezi's outstretched arm and was his fourth goal of the game. With nine seconds left in the half, Hungary got the ball after a Smith shot. Biros broke free behind the U.S. defense and scored at the buzzer to give the Hungarians a 9 – 8 lead going into halftime.

On the U.S.'s first possession of the second half, Beaubien tied it again. But the Hungarian defense clamped down on Azevedo and the Magyars held the U.S. scoreless for the next 13:19 while scoring five unanswered goals to complete the three-peat. Smith caged a fastball with a little more than a minute to play to break the scoreless drought, but it was too little too late.

In the game for third, Serbia jumped out to an early lead and salvaged a disastrous Olympic tournament by winning the bronze medal, by beating their former compatriots from Montenegro, 6 – 4. It was a sloppy game that featured 45 turnover fouls and 24 exclusions, Poor shooting doomed the Montenegrans, who were playing for their nation's first Olympic medal.

In other games, Spain bested Croatia for fifth place 11 – 9. The story of the game was in the turnover fouls (15 against Croatia to 8 against Spain) resulting in Spain taking 12 more shots on goal (34 – 22). Alessandro Calcaterra scored five goals to up his Olympic tournament leading total to 27 as Italy 10 topped Germay 8. Seven different players scored for Greece as they beat Australia 9 – 8,

Final Standings:

1. Hungary
2. United States
3. Serbia
4. Montenegro
5. Spain
6. Croatia
7. Greece
8. Australia
9. Italy
10. German
11. Canada
12. China