Water polo (W) final day - USA captures elusive Olympic gold medal; Spain takes silver, Australia earns bronze

London 2012 Water Polo

The USA played their fourth Olympic water polo tournament before achieving their highest reward, an Olympic gold medal. Two USA players, Brenda Villa and Heather Petri now have four medals, one from each women's tournament since competition was inaugurated in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.  

Spain achieved its historic triumph, the silver medal, in their first time in the Olympic tournament. Australia leaves London with a bronze medal, the only other nation to compete for an Olympic medal in each of the last four Olympic Games. Australia defeated the USA in the first tournament in the Sydney 2000 Games, and collected a bronze four years ago in Beijing. The Australian team finished fourth in 2004 Athens Olympics. The complete ranking of the 2012 Water Polo Women's Tournament also includes: 4. Hungary; 5. China; 6. Russia; 7. Italy; 8. Great Britain

USA overwhelms Spain to capture team's first gold medal

Maggie Steffens (USA) carved her name indelibly into Olympic history with a five-goal effort to lift the United States to a gold medal over Spain 8-5 in the women's competition at the Water Polo Arena on Thursday. The tournament's most valuable player, proved that at 19 years of age, she is one to watch for the future, even though she already holds world cup and three world league crowns. Four years ago she was in the spectator benches cheering on her older sister Jessica Steffens (USA) to the team's second Olympic silver medal. Now the sisters are also teammates and stand among the pantheon of stars and legends as Olympic champions.  

Steffens (USA) scored five goals to lead the USA on offense while goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong (USA) posted eight saves, including a penalty shot stop, to anchor the defence. Steffens and Armstrong were both named to the Olympic All-Star Team with Steffens leading the tournament in scoring with 21 goals.

For the USA it was the crowning effort of years of endeavour and heartache, losing a last-gasp final at Sydney 2000, taking bronze at Athens 2004 and then letting the gold medal again slip away at the Beijing Olympic Games. For Brenda Villa and Heather Petri - one-goal scorers in the final - it was just reward for a lifetime's commitment and a special place in history with gold, two silvers and a bronze each from four Olympic Games.   

The manner in which USA won gold after trailing by a goal in the first quarter was storybook. Spain struck first with 5:32 in the period to grab a 1-0 lead. It wasn't until :50 left in the period that the USA broke through on a power play score from Maggie Steffens, evening the match at 1-1. That was the score headed into the second period.

Things opened up offensively after that with Spain scoring the first goal of the period on a power play to go up 2-1. Heather Petri (USA) scored on a lob shot to the tie the game at 2-2. That was followed by another goal from Maggie Steffens on a dish from sister Jessica Steffens (USA) and the red, white, and blue took their first lead at 3-2. Melissa Seidemann (USA) added with a power play goal of her own for a 4-2 lead with 4:04 remaining in the first half. The scoring closed out with another from Steffens, this time out of two meters, for a 5-2 lead. Armstrong halted a shot by Spain in the final seconds of the period and the United States led by three at the break.

In the third quarter, the United States dominated on defence, keeping Spain off the board. Steffens took the score to 6-2 and 8-2 as the Spanish watched, but were never defeated. In the fourth quarter, the USA completed a 7-0 run that blew the game open. Spain would try to rally over the remainder of the period. Jennifer Pareja (ESP) was doing her job at the other end scoring the first three goals for her team. At 8-3, Spain, playing in front of Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, were not down as Anni Espar (ESP), who had 13 goals before the final, sent two more into the net, but it was too little, too late. The United States would do the job the rest of the way on defence allowing Spain's final goal, with :54 left. The USA ended their campaign as Olympic Games champions by a final score of 8-5.

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

The USA celebrations were long and loud. The support for the Spanish was also justifiably proud as a young team fighting the odds and producing magnificent water polo all tournament. Four of the gold-medal finalists were named in the all-star team - Steffens and USA goalkeeper Betsy Armstrong; Spanish players Espar and Pareja. They were joined by Australians Holly Lincoln-Smith and Nicola Zagame and also Hungarian centre forward Barbara Bujka.

Spain's head coach Miguel Oca was proud of his team winning the silver medal: "This is a historic achievement. This is our first Olympic Games and we have won the silver medal. We are happy with silver, although we were going for the gold medal. But the US team were physically much stronger this time."

Spanish player Maica Garcia was asked about her feelings: "Disappointed, we hoped for more of an even match, but they were too strong." Spanish teammate Ona Meseguer asked her feelings about the match: "I feel sad, but happy we achieved a silver medal." Spanish player Pilar Pena on how they have got to this point: "Mickey (Miguel Oca - head coach) took us to the top." On winning silver: "I'm happy we achieved the silver medal. The silver is a good consolation prize."

USA head coach Adam Krikorian was asked about being thrown into the pool by his players at the conclusion of the match: "It's never getting old. This feeling is incredible. I'm speechless." On when did he feel they had won the final: "Only with about 30 seconds to go. I was so focused today, I was still annoyed with myself about what I did two days ago (calling an illegal time-out in the semis, awarding a penalty for Australia and a chance for the extra-time). I just told myself to stand there all the way to the very end. I was even upset how we handled the last two minutes." On what made the final a bit one-sided: "I really liked how we played five-men defence. We got some momentum there defensively, and once we got that it's tough to get the ball past us. We played with a lot of heart, that was it."

USA veteran player Brenda Villa, the owner of a gold (won today), two silvers and one bronze medals was asked about how it feels to win the Olympic gold medal and whether this will be her final Olympics: "I am speechless, it still hasn't sunk in. We played great defence today and that is what won us the medal. There are no words to explain how I'm feeling, but to go through the last four years with the players who were in Beijing and the new players here, like Maggie (Steffens), it means the world to me, I can't describe it. It's the end of a journey and I got my fairy-tale ending." Villa discussed her teammate Maggie Steffens' performance in the tournament: "She's a phenomenal player, but I think the anchor of our team is (our goalkeeper) Betsey (Armstrong) - no one wants to shoot against her. As for Maggie, she's a great talent and I am looking forward to watching her for the next 10 years." Heather Petri, the other veteran player of the USA team who owns one gold (won today), two silver and one bronze medals, was asked about being a four-time Olympian with a full set of medals: "It's awesome, I can't believe it - I'm so proud of the team." On scoring a rare goal (for her) in the final at London 2012: "(Crying and laughing) I'm so happy, it doesn't matter who scores. I was there and it was great to put the ball in the net."

Courtney Mathewson (USA) - on how she feels winning the gold: "Incredible. I can't even describe in words. It's been our focus for so long, I'm actually speechless." On what veterans Heather Petri and Brenda Villa said to the team before the match: "Do what you do. We train day after day. I know it's the Olympics, but you have to treat it like just another game."


Australia puts down extra-time challenge by Hungary to capture bronze

Australia survived a major mistake on the final buzzer before beating Hungary 13-11 in extra time to claim the women's bronze medal. The victory was a repeat of Beijing 2008 in which the Australian women beat Hungary with the final shot of a penalty shootout.

Australian goalkeeper Alicia McCormack thought she was safe in holding the ball in the final 10 seconds when her team were 11-10 ahead but Dora Antal (HUN) had other ideas. Antal swam underwater to McCormack, surfaced, stole the ball and backhanded it into goal on full time for 11-11 amid a deafening roar. Australia emerged from the two, three-minute periods virtually unscathed amid wild scenes in which Hungarian head coach Andras Meresz was red-carded and sent from the pool deck.

It was centre forward Gemma Beadsworth who scored the first goal for 12-11 and after gaining an exclusion in the dying seconds, she lobbed for her fourth goal - 10th for the tournament  - and a 13-11 victory. Australia relinquished two four-goal leads, 7-3 late in the second quarter and 8-4 early in the third, and watched as Hungarians Rita Keszthelyi and Gabriella Szucs brought the game from 11-8 down to 11-10 in the final quarter before Antal's inspired goal. She and Beadsworth were instrumental in their teams' magnificent showings in a match worthy of one of the best in the 12-year history of women's water polo at the Olympic Games.

Hungarian centre forward Barbara Bujka was the biggest threat to Australia, inspiring her team with a handful of ejections and two goals to finish arguably as the best two-metre player at London 2012. Hungary was unable to deliver for their huge support base, which included the nation's president Janos Ader who was in attendance tonight. Australia were devastatingly accurate in the extra-man plays, converting five from nine, compared to Hungary's three from 13.

Hungarian head coach Andras Meresz on the dramatic equaliser at the end of normal play: "This is Hungarian water polo in its prime. Even when all seemed lost we came back from the bottom of the pool. We did it when we trailed by four and then again in the last seconds. In fact, Dora Antal also came from the bottom to grab the ball from the goalie and scored. No one does it, just the Hungarians. It's genetics, old school, water polo culture, knowledge of one hundred years." On going home without a medal: "We would have deserved a medal, but this team were robbed. Anyone who watched the match should know who committed the sins against the girls."

Hungarian team player Orsolya Takacs on how she feels: "Really bad, so sad. It was really hard to lose the bronze medal match." On what went wrong: "It didn't go wrong. Australia were just so good." On what she was thinking when Dora Antal scored to equalise in the last second of normal time: "I thought 'we just got back the match'. This showed our team's strength, we had a chance." Her teammate Edina Gangl on the match: "It was really hard, we fought well, but we couldn't make it."

Australian head coach Greg McFadden asked about conceding a goal in the last seconds which forced the game into extra-time: "It was just a brain snap, I didn't expect that. We have controlled the ball, but we lost it in the final seconds. Anyway, the girls have showed composure and they came back." On winning the bronze medal: "We have played well and were beaten just once. We've played three matches that have gone into extra-time, including one penalty shootout. Tough week, tough Olympics, but the girls have worked hard and they deserved a medal."

Australia veteran player Mel Rippon on how relieved she is to have won the bronze medal: "Very relieved and so proud of our team. We kept fighting to the end." On conceding a goal with the last play of regulation time: "We got too excited, we always said we would concentrate until the last buzzer, but we got carried away." Her teammate Kate Gynther on the last second goal for Hungary that tied the match in normal time: "Honestly, after this week, I wouldn't put anything past us. It was a great move by the Hungarians and it paid off for them." On getting over the disappointment of losing to USA in the semi-finals: "We saw family and friends and they really help you through it, but the bronze is a huge thing to play for. We had a good video and tactic session and got on with the job."


China stops Russia in extra time and finishes 5th 

China needed extra time to beat Russia 16-15 in the play-off for 5th place. The match was locked at 14-14 by full time in a match that had teams swapping the lead. China scored a goal in each of the two extra three-minute periods and Russia only one to end their Olympics.  

Ma Huanhuan (CHN), voted most valuable player at the FINA World Championships in 2011, took her tally to a tournament-high 19 with six goals, including her fifth, which levelled the match to go into extra time. Ma, fittingly, scored the first of the extra-time goals for 15-14 in the first period. Wang Yi (CHN) scored her fourth to take the margin to 16-14 in the second period. Russia drew one back through Nadezhda Fedotova 10 seconds from time.

By the end of three periods, when the score was 11-11, China had taken the lead five times and Russia four. The quarter scores were 3-3, 9-8 to Russia and 11-11. Alexandra Antonova (RUS) scored three goals in the third period and her fourth in the last. For Russia, it was an improvement from seventh at Beijing 2008 and China repeated their fifth place. On the extra-man count, China netted four from 12 chances and Russia five from 11.

Russian head coach Alexander Kabanov on losing the match: "A loss is not good for the soul, we will learn from this and make sure that it doesn't happen again. We can't be satisfied with where we have finished." Russian player Sofya Konukh on their performance: "It was an extremely disappointing performance for us, but we have a lot of young girls on the team who are very good and have a bright future."

Russian player Ekaterina Prokofyeva on what was the difference in the game: "We had a lot of exclusions today, which made our defence weak in periods of the game. I didn't think that all of the exclusions were fair." On finishing sixth in the tournament: "We are not happy with finishing sixth place. We really wanted to win this game, we wanted to win it for ourselves, we had to win." Her teammate Olga Belova on whether sixth place is good enough for Russia: "No, it is not good. Our defence has been far from good." On what the future holds for the Russian team, one of the youngest at London 2012: "We will do the best that we can do and we will work hard. That will be our future."

China's head coach Juan Jane (ESP) on the team's 5th place finish: "We always enter the Olympics wanting to do our best and I am fairly pleased with where we finished. Chinese water polo is among the best in the world." On the match: "We suffered a hard loss against Australia (in the quarterfinals), so in the end I am pleased with the way the players have come back from that."

China player Gao Ao on the match: "It was a tougher game than we expected, but we are pleased with the win and we did not want to come lower than we did at the last Olympics (fifth)." On enjoying the Olympic Games: "It is my second Olympic Games and I think the first time I did not get into the Olympic spirit, but this time I have enjoyed it a lot more." Teammate Ma Huanhuan on how China has played in the tournament: "We're satisfied with the results overall, we've played better as the tournament has gone on. I'm happy we've shown our strength to the people in China." On scoring six goals in the match: "Personally, I'm very proud, but I couldn't achieve it without the help of my teammates."


Italy beats Great Britain to earn 7th place 

Athens 2004 champions Italy came from two goals behind to beat Great Britain 11-7 in the play-off for 7th place. Great Britain held a 3-2 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but by midway through the second period, Italy went in front and surged away for the win.

Athens 2004 gold medallist Tania Di Mario (ITA) scored her seventh and eighth penalty goals, plus two field goals, to finish with a total of 18 for the tournament. Her influence was what held Italy together, but the Italians were far from the force of old.

After a great first quarter, Great Britain conceded five consecutive goals to be 6-3 down at half-time and trailed 9-5 after three periods. Francesca Clayton (GBR) scored her only two goals of the tournament in the match. It was Great Britain's first Olympics and the quality of their play turned heads and heralded a new team in the top echelon of women's water polo.

Italy will be disappointed with finishing seventh, considering that just seven months ago they won the European crown. Great Britain scored two goals from six man-up situations, while Italy scored three from five.

Great Britain's head coach Szilveszter Fekete (HUN) on remaining winless at the Olympics: "We aimed to play even matches with the others even though we were regarded the underdogs without a chance. I think we managed to stay close to such powerhouses as Russia, Italy and Spain. It's interesting to see Spain in the final, while we finished bottom." On whether he dares to say the British team can make the 2016 Games in Rio through qualifying: "Why not? If you take out (Elisa) Casanova or (Tania) Di Mario from the Italian team, they're going to be much weaker. Those two players will probably retire soon, and (Sofya) Konukh won't play forever for the Russians either. We can grow stronger while the others lose their key-players - so the door is wide open, for sure." On the team's future: "I think we have a solid base to go on. It's time for British water polo to rise. I picked 13 players from a 20-membre squad, but for the next Olympic cycle we will have more new faces coming from the juniors. We will have 30 good players to choose from, and I don't think most other countries have a wider pool."

GB player Rosie Morris on summing up their performance: "It's frustrating more than anything, it was again a tight match, but again we have come up just short. It's our first Olympic Games and I think we have shown that we can keep up with the best."  On the possibility for future funding: "I would like to think so, as we have given these teams a good match. We have come from losing by 20 goals to now making the games very close." Her teammate Beckie Kershaw asked if she has enjoyed her Olympic experience: "We were so focused on beating Italy today. I can't put it into words. I've never felt anything like it. Team GB really is like a family. Whenever we've won a medal, everyone feels like we've done the country proud."

Italian head coach Fabio Conti on summing up Italy's tournament: "We arrived here with our batteries not charged enough. We spent a lot of energy in the Olympic qualifying tournament and that was the most important thing for us. We tried to prepare properly, but this is sport and sometimes you are good and sometimes you are just not good enough." On what the future holds for the Italian team: "Every single year it's a new project. I started with this team 20 months ago and we now need a new project for the next Olympics."

Italian player Elisa Casanova on their tournament: "The results didn't go as well as we hoped, but that's sport for you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose." Her teammate Giulia Emmolo (ITA) on winning the game and finishing seventh: "I think it is important to finish well, this is my first experience of the Olympic Games and I have loved every minute." On where the Italian team can go from here: "It is important we don't give up. Every time you play you must work hard and we will continue to play with our hearts in every game."