Top water polo stories to watch in Rio
The U.S. women's water polo team – the reigning Olympic and world champions – is heavily favored to win gold again at the 2016 Rio Games. On the men's side, Tony Azevedo preps for a U.S. record fifth Olympics. Here are the top five storylines to watch in Rio.
United States looking to become first women’s water polo team to repeat as gold medalists
The U.S. women’s water polo team is the first in history to own simultaneous Olympic, World, World Cup and World League titles since women’s water polo’s inception at the 2000 Sydney Games. The team also claimed gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. They look to defend their gold medal and become the first women’s water polo team to repeat as Olympic gold medalists. Their major rivals will be teams from Spain (2012 silver medalists) and Australia (fourth at 2015 Worlds), who could both put up a good fight. The U.S. recently took on Australia in a three-game series in California, winning two matches.
Maggie Steffens steps up into leadership role
Maggie Steffens made her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games, the youngest member on the team at 19 years old. She won a gold medal alongside her older sister Jessica and was named the tournament MVP. Four years later, she is the team’s captain and is leading the squad – including another set of talented sisters, Makenzie and Aria Fischer.
U.S. men’s water polo team captain Tony Azevedo got his first taste of the Olympics at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where he was a ball boy for the Spain vs. Croatia Gold Medal Game. He made his Olympic debut at the 2000 Games in Sydney and has been a mainstay on the team since. In 2008, the U.S. won silver medals but plummeted to eighth in 2012. For 2016, Azevedo returns to his birthplace, Rio de Janeiro, in pursuit of the elusive Olympic gold.
Reigning men’s world champs Serbia aiming for fourth gold medal
Serbia’s men’s water polo team took home the 2015 world title and is favored to win Olympic gold after two consecutive bronze medal showings. Dejan Udovicic coached the team to the bronze in London, but has since taken over the head coaching post for the United States. Their last water polo gold came in 1988.
Other countries in the mix
Croatia took home Olympic gold in 2012 on the men’s side over Italy, who snuck in for silver. Croatia earned silver behind Serbia at the 2015 World Championships, while Italy placed fourth behind Greece in the Bronze Medal Match.