Two of the powerhouse women’s water polo countries have turned the corner with new head coaches entering the fray less than three years out from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Evangelos Doudesis (NED) and Paul Oberman (AUS) have the tasks of lifting their respective teams back into podium contention.
Netherlands and Australia have been previous gold medallists and while the Dutch have just one gold from Beijing 2008 and sixth place in Tokyo this year, Australia has the inaugural crown plus two bronze medals and fifth place this year (beating Netherlands 14-7).
Evangelos Doudesis (pictured) succeeds Arno Havenga as national coach of the Dutch women's team. At 36, Doudesis has also been assistant coach since 2017, will be responsible for the Orange programme until 2024.
A former Greek international, Doudesis arrived in Netherlands to play for Ede Polar Bears, but soon was given the task of lifting the women’s team from last in the Eredivise to the league title in 2018. In 2017 he was elevated to the national women’s team as assistant and also took on the junior women’s team.
As a coach, he worked with the Dutch women to win European gold in 2018 and bronze and silver medals respectively at the 2017 and 2019 youth world championships.
He follows on from Havenga (main picture), who has decided to hand over the reins, after a 15-year attachment to the team of which he was head coach for the past eight years. He, in turn, took over from
Mauro Maugeri (pictured), the former Italian head coach who died unexpectedly.
The list of daunting coaching goes back even further to the great Kees van Hardeveld, who masterminded four World Cup victories in the 1990s and Peter van den Biggelaar who won World, World Cup and European titles in the 1980s. Robin van Galen was at the helm for the Olympic gold.
FINA Bureau member and avid Dutch water polo enthusiast Erik van Heijningen, said: “Our beloved Kees van Hardeveld (pictured) died on January 7, 2017. He was a loyal coach and employee of the federation. Water polo was his passion, to help people his nature. Always very attentive, dedicated and focused. Modest. But with his support for women water polo, he contributed to the successes.”
On Mauro Maugeri, he said: “Mauro died in November, 2017. The women respected him very much as well. He brought new inspiration in the team. His assistant, Arno Havenga, also respected him very much. By learning a lot from Mauro, Arno was able to take over his role.”
The handover to Doudesis was the natural succession, van Heijningen said.
In Australia’s case, the successor to outgoing Predrag Mihailovic came from the other side of the gender divide.
Paul Oberman (above), who played more than 200 matches for Australia in a senior career spanning 1987 until 1996, was for 11 years assistant coach in the Aussie Sharks men’s programme.
Oberman was based in Singapore, serving as the technical director for water polo for the Singapore Swimming Association during the pandemic. After deciding to return to Australia due to family health issues, Oberman said the timing of the role with Water Polo Australia was ideal.
“I’m excited to be heading up the Australian women’s water polo team as we look towards the Paris Olympics, which are fast approaching.
“I will be engaging a larger coaching and support staff, younger and more women. Additionally, we want to give exposure and experiences to many of the younger girls within the greater national women’s programme. Unfortunately, due to Covid, Australian (cadet, youth, junior and State programmes) teams haven’t had the opportunity to travel and compete in games and tournaments. So, our focus will be to provide scrimmages and matches against international opposition to enhance player/team development, lifting our performances back to International standards.
“There is so much talent within the squad and the pathway… and Brisbane 2032 presents a great opportunity for us to increase the pool of players at all levels of the pathway. I have no doubt that everyone is going to want to be part of a home Olympics, which can only be a good thing for water polo as it has the potential to create genuine competition to make an Australian squad, at all levels.
“Given the short runway to Paris I am keen to hit the ground running, get connected with the players, see how they work and understand the Aussie Stingers culture so we can then build goals together,” Oberman said.
He has big shoes to fill with multiple medals in the cabinet through the head coaching achievements of Greg McFadden, Olympic-winning coach Istvan Gorgenyi (pictured), David Neesham and the late David Woods in the 1990s — all Olympian players.