Between now and the conclusion of the London Olympics, U.S. men's water polo player Peter Hudnut will be blogging periodically for ESPN.com. Below is his first entry, and you can read more about his story here.
My name is Peter Hudnut and I will be sharing our team's journey from now through the Olympic Games, as our penultimate chapter leading up to London began on June 5 with the official naming of the 14 players who will comprise the Olympic team. Before sharing with you our recent historic wins over Croatia and Hungary and the two members of our family that we lost in our most recent round of difficult cuts, a little background on myself.
I was born into a wonderful family of educators with my parents, Tom and Deedie and my siblings, Sarah and Spencer. I was born in Washington, D.C., but our family moved a few times before finally landing in Los Angeles in 1987. Our parents were incredibly supportive of all of our dreams, adventures, and misadventures. This proved critical for me since I announced at the age of 9 that I would one day become an Olympian. (I will go into that story more in subsequent posts!) I started playing water polo in seventh grade at Harvard-Westlake School, where my father works, and that was it! I was hooked on the sport since Day One.
For those unfamiliar with water polo, it is the most challenging team sport in the world. The physical and mental demands, as well as the basic game structure, make it one of the few sports in which one superstar cannot completely control or win a game. For example, you will very rarely see a player take the ball end to end, or completely out-maneuver the entire other team, etc. Water polo is also played in a number of planes; the horizontal plane requires us to be near Olympic-level swimmers to push counter-attacks or recover to defense; the vertical plane requires us to self-propel our bodies out of the water -- with no ground to push off of -- in order to shoot a ball 50 mph all while wrestling in a judo-meets-jiu-jitsu style for position, which sometimes feels more like survival.
But I digress. I was brought into the national team program my senior year of high school as B Team scrimmage bate in 1999. I have been a member of the program ever since, with a brief stint in retirement while I attended graduate school at Stanford. I was named an alternate on the 2004 Olympic team and finally played in the 2008 Games, where we took home a silver medal.
Enough about me for now. I want to talk to you about two members of our family, our tribe, who recently ended their journeys to this summer's Games: Brian Alexander and Andy Stevens. Brian is a fantastic player who had a great career at UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a professional career in various parts of Spain. He is a great offensive threat and, although his journey has ended this year, his career in international water polo could and should go on through 2016. He has too many nicknames to list here, but most call him "Thor" due to his size and strength. He and his wife, Ericka, live in La Jolla, where she just opened a boutique clothing store. "Thor" is a great man of character and integrity and is missed.
Andy is our youngest national team player and a great -- albeit unconventional -- goalie. I say unconventional because he has an incredible ability to block shots he shouldn't be able to reach and his style is truly unique. Andy, like Brian, is incredibly kind and giving to the team. His enthusiasm and youth will ensure further pursuits, both with the national team and a professional career in Europe.
I think it's important to remind people that we do not play for money, fame or livelihood; we all play for our families, country, the gold medal and each other. We play because we don't know any better. Like an internal pull to a significant other, you aren't always able to find the best explanation of "why" -- it just feels right. This is what makes saying goodbye to two teammates so difficult.
On a brighter note, their final days with the team came with matches against Croatia and Hungary in a four-game series. Both are top-ranked teams and always incredible competition and training for us. It was a historic week -- we were victors in three of the four games. We hadn't won against Croatia since the 2008 Games and our last victory against three-time defending gold-medal champion Hungary was in 2004. (Note: We have never beaten the Hungarians twice in a row!) The sold-out crowd provided an energy I have never felt playing in the States -- a truly great starting point for the summer.
Alhough we have a lot of work to do. As Robert Frost penned, "Miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."
Thank you for indulging me in my first-ever blog. I will have more detail and fewer words from here on out. I hope you join us on our journey.