Olympics, Women’s Water Polo: Silver Again – De Bruun, Dutch Shock U.S.

By Bruce Wigo

BEIJING, China, August 21. AT the Yingdong Natatorium in Beijing, Danielle de Bruun was on fire and she burned the U.S. for seven goals, leading the unheralded team from the Netherlands to the gold medal and an upset win over the heavily-favored U.S. team by the score of 9 – 8.

The first game of the evening was between Australia and Hungary for the bronze medal. Before the game, Australian coach Greg McFadden fired up the Hungarians by predicting an easy win. Trailing 7-6, with 25 seconds remaining in the game, the Australian's drew an exclusion and tied the score with eight seconds, sending the game into overtime. In the first OT, Australia outscored the Hungarians 2 – 1, but at :34, the Magyars earned an exclusion and were able to tie the score at 9 – 9, sending the game into a shoot-out, which turned out to be a battle between Emma Knox and Patricia Horvath, the goalkeepers for Australia and Hungary, respectively. Knox had three blocks and Horvath two, leaving the Aussies with a 12 – 11 win and the bronze medal.

In the gold medal game, de Bruun and the Dutch team were on fire from the start, jumping out to a 4 – 0 lead before the U.S. knew what hit them. But there was no panic on the U.S. bench and at the 2:27 mark, Jessica Steffens scored the first of her two, first quarter goals, to bring the score to 4 – 2, at the period's end.

In the second period, Marieke van den Ham made it 5 -2, for Holland, but then the U.S. appeared to shake off its early jitters and responded with three unanswered goals to tie the game at five, going into half time.

The third quarter started with de Bruun winning the sprint before scoring her fourth and fifth goals of the game to give the Dutch a 7 – 5 lead. Brenda Villa countered with a shot off a foul, from six meters out, to close the gap to one, at 4:17.

Throughout the game, U.S. coach Guy Baker exuded a quiet confidence that was reflected in the comeback play of his team. But with 12 seconds remaining in the quarter, Baker exploded when an apparent five-meter penalty wasn't called, and received a yellow card from the cross pool referee as the quarter ended.

The Dutch won the final sprint for the ball, but Brittany Hayes scored on a left-handed lob shot at 6:23 to bring the U.S. back to even at 7 – 7. de Bruun followed with her sixth goal of the game on the Netherlander's next possession before Moriah van Norman responded for the U.S. with an overpowering spin move at the center forward position.

With the teams tied at eight goals apiece, there were expectations for a repeat of the overtime bronze medal game, but it wasn't to be. The teams traded missed opportunities until there was 45 seconds left, when the Dutch team earned an exclusion at the center position against Villa. An underwater replay showed it should have been an offensive foul. The Dutch immediately called time out and at 26 seconds. de Bruun found herself wide open on the perimeter and netted her seventh goal of the game for the win. The U.S. got two good shots off, but the Dutch defense held on for the win.

Left-hander de Bruun made seven of eight attempts while the rest of the Dutch team shot two of twenty-three. Eight of their nine goals came from the left-hander side of the pool.

The disappointment over the loss was evident in the faces of the American players, particularly on Villa and Heather Petrie, who were making their third Olympic appearance and were hoping for a complete set of Olympic medals, having won silver and bronze, in Sydney and Athens. Like the great U.S. men's teams of the 1980s, the third time proved to be no charm. In five Olympic final appearances since 1984, the U.S. now has won four silver medals and one bronze in water polo. That leaves it up to the men's team to win the U.S.'s first gold medal since 1904.