When looking at the list of the Water Polo best players or teams since 2010, there are two clear trends: among men, Serbia is dominant, while in the women’s category, USA also appears in five out of the seven prizes given so far. Croatia, Hungary, Greece and Spain are the other countries also being honoured by the yearly FINA accolade.
After winning the FINA World Cup and the FINA World League, Serbia was the best team of the year, in 2010. Before the implementation of criteria to establish the awardees in 2014, the choice could be done on athletes rather than teams. Vanja Udovicic, one of the stars of the Serbian team, was therefore honoured. Came 2011 and the FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN): despite losing the final against Italy by a tangential 7-8, Serbia’s Filip Filipovic (19 goals) was elected the best of the year. He was of course part of the golden success of his team in the World League. Filipovic was again the best in 2014, after successive wins of Serbia in the World Cup and World League.
After so dominant years, it was expected that Serbia would finally get the Olympic gold in London 2012, but the Balkan squad was not so successful in the British capital, getting only the bronze. In the final, Croatia beat Italy, and Josip Pavic, considered the best goalkeeper of the tournament, received the FINA award of “FINA Best Male Water Polo Player” of the year.
In 2013, Hungary won the World Championships’ title in Barcelona and Denes Varga (13 goals) received the FINA award of the year.
In the last two editions – 2015 and 2016 – Serbia was again honoured, after winning all relevant competitions during this period – the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan (RUS) and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (BRA). Moreover, they were also the gold medallists in the World League.
USA, the team to beat
Among women, Serbia’s “counterpart” is the team of United States. From 2010 to 2016, the North Americans only missed the gold in one edition of the World League, in 2013 (China won). Besides this outstanding supremacy, the US squad was the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion, respectively in London (GBR) and Rio (2016), earned the gold at the 2015 Worlds in Kazan and triumphed in the 2010 and 2014 editions of the World Cup. Individually, Elizabeth Armstrong, the successful goalkeeper of the team, was honoured in 2010, while Maggie Steffens got the honours in 2012 (after being the best scorer, with 21 goals, at the London Olympics) and 2014. Collectively, USA was the best of the year in 2015 and 2016.
The only two non-US references in the list of awardees come from Greece and Spain. In 2011, at the Shanghai Worlds, the Hellenic team defeated the home squad in the decisive game and Alexandra Asimaki (13 goals, including three in the final) was named the best of the year. In Barcelona, two years later, the home team did not disappoint its fans and Jennifer Pareja (16 goals in the tournament), one of the stars of the Spanish squad, was elected the best of year.
List of past winners*
2010 – Vanja Udovicic (SRB)
2011 – Filip Filipovic (SRB)
2012 – Josip Pavic (CRO)
2013 – Denes Varga (HUN)
2014 – Filip Filipovic (SRB)
2015 – Team of Serbia
2016 – Team of Serbia
2010 – Elizabeth Armstrong (USA)
2011 – Alexandra Asimaki (GRE)
2012 – Maggie Steffens (USA)
2013 – Jennifer Pareja (ESP)
2014 – Maggie Steffens (USA)
2015 – Team of USA
2016 – Team of USA
*The FINA World Aquatics Gala “Soirée des Etoiles” has been successively organised in Doha (QAT, 2014), Budapest (HUN, 2015), and Windsor (CAN, 2016).