Rio de Janeiro, 2016
Serbia finished just one point behind the top spot in Group A in the preliminary round of the men’s tournament. As it happened, though, so did Greece and Brazil, relegating Serbia to fourth place after tiebreakers. That positioned them against Group B winner Spain in a brutal quarterfinal matchup, which they won, 10-7. Serbia then went on to defeat Italy in the semifinal and Croatia in the final to capture its first water polo gold medal. Italy topped Montenegro for bronze.
The defending champion U.S. women took the pool in Rio with heavy hearts. Days before the start of the tournament, coach Adam Krikorian’s brother, Blake, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 48. Krikorian returned briefly to California to mourn, but was back in Brazil for his team’s opening match. No doubt inspired by their coach’s resilience, the Americans dominated every team they played in Rio, winning each game by at least four goals. In the final, the U.S. defeated Italy 12-5, then placed all 13 gold medals around Krikorian’s neck at the victory ceremony. Russia took bronze over Hungary in a high-scoring affair, 19-18.
Croatia went undefeated throughout the men's Olympic water polo tournament and squared off with 2011 world champions Italy in the gold medal game, winning its first Olympic title 8-6. Serbia captured the bronze medal for the second consecutive Games, again topping Montenegro in the bronze medal game. Four years after claiming silver in Beijing, the U.S. men finished the tournament in eighth place.
After two prior appearances in the gold medal game without claiming the Olympic title, the U.S. women handily topped Spain for gold by a score of 8-5. Team USA's Maggie Steffens scored 21 goals throughout the tournament, including five in the gold medal game. It was Spain's first appearance in a women's Olympic water polo tournament. Australia and Hungary played in a rematch of the Beijing 2008 bronze medal game, with Australia pulling out the win again in overtime.
The men's water polo Olympic title went to Hungary for the third consecutive time, and ninth overall (the most of any nation in men's water polo) after they beat the United States 14-10. The bronze medal went to Serbia, who competed against the newly independent Montenegro. Formerly, Serbia and Montenegro had competed as one team.
In the women’s gold medal game between the Netherlands and the United States, the score was tied at halftime at 5-5. Late in the fourth quarter the score was tied again at 8-8. The Dutch edged the Americans with another goal with less than 30 seconds on the clock to take the title 9-8. In the bronze medal game, Australia edged Hungary, 12-11.
Hungary defended their Olympic men’s title, this time beating out Serbia for the gold. The score was tied 5-5 at halftime, and Serbia surged in the third quarter with two more goals. For the final 13 minutes of the game, Hungary scored three goals to Serbia's zero, and the game was decided with Hungary winning 8-7.
On the women's side, Italy beat out Greece in the second overtime period. The United States and Australia squared off in the bronze medal game, with the U.S. winning 6-5.
Hungary’s men walloped the Russians, who were likely exhausted from their 10 minutes of intense overtime play in the semifinal game. The score of the final was 13-6. The bronze medal game was equally one-sided, as Yugoslavia beat Spain 8-3.
The women's competition was introduced 100 years after men's water polo was included in the Olympic program. There was an exhibition game (not for medals) between two Dutch teams at the 1920 Games at Antwerp. In the inaugural women's water polo final, Australia topped the United States 4-3. Russia defeated the Netherlands for bronze 4-3.
Spain was fueled by dreams of redemption to beat Croatia, 7-5. In his fifth Games, Manuel Estiarte, the first water polo player to eventually compete in six Olympics, had possession as the clock ran out while Spain was leading and later explained: "The last 10 seconds of the Olympic final, I have the ball and Spain wins the gold medal. I waited five Olympics, but it finally happened." Italy and Hungary also got their chance at a rematch of 1992 in the bronze medal game, where Italy prevailed 20-18 in overtime.
Spain entered the gold medal game as expected, and many tapped Yugoslavia to be in the final, too. Instead, the country was banned from team sports because of the politics of the era (but individual athletes were permitted to compete under the "Independent Olympic Participants" flag). Italy and Spain competed in the final and played six overtime periods, of which three were scoreless. The game lasted 46 minutes and Italy won over Spain 9-8. Seven members of Spain's roster were native Barcelonans. The Soviets defeated the U.S. for bronze 8-4.
The Yugoslavia vs. United States gold medal game was tied 6-6 at the end of regulation play, and for the first time in the Olympics, FINA's new overtime rules came into play. In an extra six-minute period, Yugoslavia scored three goals that the U.S. couldn't top, and they won 9-7. The Soviets captured bronze over Germany with a score of 14-13.
Los Angeles, 1984
When the gold medal game ended in a 5-5 tie, and without an overtime rule in place, Yugoslavia was awarded the win over the United States because they had a greater goal differential. Both teams finished with a 6-0-1 record in the tournament. Germany won the bronze.
The Soviet team took gold at home in Moscow, over Yugoslavia (second) and Hungary (third). The bronze for Hungary represented their 12th consecutive medal in Olympics between 1928 and 1980.
Hungary claimed gold with seven wins and one draw in the tournament. Italy and the Netherlands were second and third, respectively.
The Soviet Union defeated Hungary for the gold medal. The U.S. men reached the podium as bronze medalists. The water polo tournament included a game between Hungary and Italy that saw eight players suspended in less than a 40-second span.
Mexico City, 1968
Yugoslavia's first water polo gold came in 1968 after years of other medals and finishing outside the podium. Yugoslavia defeated the Soviet Union 13-11, even after Soviet Oleksei Barkalov scored seven goals. Two of those goals came in the final 35 seconds of game play, but it wasn't enough to overtake Yugoslavia. Hungary took the bronze.
A controversy formed around the depth of the pool, when Hungary and Italy complained the taller Yugoslavian players could stand on the bottom of the pool with their heads above water - the pool was 5 feet, 10 inches deep. Today, regulation depth is about 6 feet, 5 inches deep. After tying a game 4-4 with Yugoslavia, Hungary was awarded the win because of the greater goal differential. The Soviet team was third.
Italy topped both the Soviet Union (silver) and Hungary (bronze) on home soil in 1960, marking the country's second water polo gold medal since 1948.
Hungary captured another victory, but the final game was halted early. Politics of the era boiled over and clashed in the pool, where the Hungary vs. Yugoslavia/Croatia gold medal game ended in a brawl. Third place was won by the Soviet team.
Hungary reclaimed its title over Yugoslavia, who advanced to the final game after protesting the results of the semifinal game with the Netherlands and replaying it. It was the second Olympic appearance for Hungary's Dezso Gyarmati, who went on to earn medals in five Olympics between 1948 and 1964 (three gold, one silver, one bronze). Italy was third.
Italy, which had yet to make an Olympic podium appearance in water polo, earned gold over Hungary in London. The Netherlands rounded out the podium for bronze.
Hungary captured its second straight Olympic victory over Germany at the Berlin Games. The game was tied 2-2, but Hungary was awarded the victory due to having a greater goal differential. Oliver Halassy, whose leg was amputated below the knee from a childhood street car accident, played in his third Olympic tournament for Hungary. Belgium was third.
Los Angeles, 1932
In a reverse of the outcome four years earlier, Hungary took gold to Germany's silver. The United States took bronze. After losing an early game to Germany, the Brazilian team was suspended and forfeited remaining games after attacking the Hungarian referee. Police were called to the incident.
It was Germany's turn to top the podium in 1928, defeating Hungary in overtime 5-2. At the end of regulation, the score was tied 2-2. France was third.
France toppled Great Britain's winning streak at their home Games by beating Belgium in the final, 3-0. The crowd insisted that both teams' national anthems were played. The U.S. earned bronze and were led by five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller.
Great Britain triumphed again in the final, winning over Belgium in an unpopular 3-2 victory. Belgian spectators attacked the British/Irish combined team and they had to be removed from the arena by armed guards. Sweden was third and Team USA, which included two-time swimming gold medalist Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, was fourth.
Two Dutch women's teams played an exhibition water polo game, but the sport would not be included for women for another 80 years.
Again, Great Britain won the Olympic water polo title. The final game was decided in an 8-0 victory over Austria. The Olympic podium was identical to 1908, except Sweden and Belgium swapped places, earning silver and bronze this time.
The second water polo Olympic gold medal - in an event contested by more than a single country - was won by Great Britain. One of the players for Great Britain, Paul Radmilovic, eventually took part in five Olympic Games as both a swimmer and a water polo player. In total, he earned three water polo gold medals and a gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the 1908 London Games. Belgium earned silver followed by Sweden for bronze.
St. Louis, 1904
Three teams, all from the United States, were entered in the water polo competition. Because the event was only contested between American teams, some consider this to have been a demonstration sport only. Regardless, a gold medal was awarded to the New York Athletic Club, followed by the Chicago Athletic Association and the Missouri Athletic Association in the silver and bronze spots, respectively.
Great Britain captured the inaugural Olympic water polo tournament title, followed by Belgium and France for silver and bronze, respectively. In the final, Team GB limited their shots as to not embarrass their opponents: the score in the Gold Medal Game was 7-2.