Robert Wake, U.S. Polo Player, Passes Away Competing at 2019 FINA World Masters Championships

Members of the 1968 San Jose Spartans men's water polo team that won the unofficial national championship. Bob Wake is third from the left in front.

Editorial content for the 2019 World Championships coverage is sponsored by FORM Swim Goggles. See full event coverage. Follow FORM on Instagram at @FORMSwim #swimwithform FORM Swim-Logo

Tragedy again struck Gwangju, South Korea and the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships. Saturday night in a 70+ masters water polo match between the Blue Thunder Masters Polo Team from Southern California and Australia’s Perth Cockatoos, Robert Wake, Jr., a masters player from the Blue Thunder club, was stricken by a heart attack.

After CPR was performed by a rescue team on site as well as doctors from the organizing committee and the American team, Wake was taken by ambulance to Gwuangju Veterans Hospital. He was then transferred to Chonnam National University Hospital where his heart again stopped. The medical team then unsuccessfully performed an emergency operation.


Bob Wake, wife Dee in 2018. Photo Courtesy: Maureen Koehler

Three weeks ago—in the final days of the FINA World Championships, the second most prestigious aquatics event after the Olympic Games—a balcony collapse at a Gwangju nightclub claimed the lives of two South Koreans as well as caused injuries to American water polo players.

A pivotal player for San Jose State during the glory years of Spartan men’s water polo, Wake was a member of the 1968 national championship team that won the year before the NCAA officially sanctioned men’s water polo championships.

A high school player at Awalt High in Mountain View, California, Wake played under legendary coach Art Lambert, who was the 1968 and 1972 U.S. Men’s National Team coach. While at Awalt, he played with Sheldon Ellsworth, Jim Ferguson, Greg Hind, Gary Sheerer and Barry Weitzenberg, all of whom represented the U.S. in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

[Dettamanti on 50 Years of NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championships]

Hind was also Wake’s teammate at San Jose State and a member of the 1968 championship team. A noted philanthropist, Hind passed away in 2012, but his widow Jane set up a $1 million dollar endowment to help fund the revival of Spartan water polo in 2015—an effort that Wake was also involved in.


In a statement, Bruce Watson, current San Jose State men’s water polo coach, and a former player who spearheaded the return of SJS polo, remembered his friend and fellow Spartan.

The whole San Jose State water polo family is saddened by the news of Bob’s passing. He was a member of the college championship winning team in 1968, and just got back into playing Masters.
I’ve known Bob since his college days when I looked up to him as one of the better older players, and he was a great person, good to everyone around him and a scrappy player as well. I’ve heard from him quite a few times since we’ve brought the team back, he was super supportive and one of our biggest fans. He will be missed.
Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas A. Small
4 years ago

Really sad God Bless him

4 years ago

He lived an amazing life, although left us too soon. He was part of an amazing new high school, Awalt High School in Mountain View, whose students were the very best!!……Gil Duncan

Maureen Koehler
Maureen Koehler
4 years ago

I took that photo in April 2018 in Bangkok during a water polo tournament. My husband played on the same team.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x