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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Hungary wins back-to-back golds

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Tony Azevedo and Jesse Smith scored three goals each to lead the United States to a 9-8 upset of Italy on Sunday for seventh place in the Olympic water polo competition.

In other action Sunday, Hungary won its eighth Olympic water polo gold medal, scoring three times in the last quarter to beat Serbia-Montenegro 8-7. Left-handed shooter Gergeley Kiss scored four goals and Tamas Kasas had two for the defending world and Olympic champions.

Aleksandar Sapic, the tournament's leading scorer with 18 goals, got the ball with a chance to tie it in the closing seconds, but didn't get a shot off in time.

"It's just an incredible feeling. It was very difficult to come back," said Kasas, one of nine dual Olympic champions in the team. "At some point, it was a dead match. We were almost broken."

"In eight years, we've had 11 finals and won nine, that's not a bad percentage," Hungarian coach Denes Kemeny said. "It's the fourth time in six years they've had to come back to beat [Serbia-Montenegro]. It must be something they've got inside."

Unbeaten in Athens, the Hungarians became the first to win back-to-back Olympic titles since Yugoslavia -- now Serbia-Montenegro -- beat the United States in consecutive finals in 1984 and '88.

The win in 2000 was Hungary's first since 1976.

"Sydney was important because it was the first in 24 years," Kemeny said. "This is important, too, because it's after just four years."

Hungary has 14 Olympic medals in water polo since 1928, including three silver and three bronze.

The Serbians didn't score in the last 13 minutes.

"We had the gold in our hands and we lost it," said Sapic. "We didn't take the big chances."

Russia beat Greece 6-5 for the bronze medal. Revaz Chomakhidze scored four goals for the Russians.

The United States' win over an Italian team that finished second in the world championships was a moral victory because being in the same bracket as Hungary, Serbia-Montenegro and Russia required a big upset for the U.S. team just to reach the final round. Only three teams from each group advanced.

"Winning that was totally important," Azevedo said. "The whole time, we've been saying the top three in our bracket are the three that are going to get the medals. This shows we could have been playing for a medal if we'd started in the other bracket."

In other games, Heiko Nossek scored twice to lead Germany to a 6-4 victory over Spain for fifth place.

Australia edged Croatia 8-7 in the playoff for ninth place. Thomas Whalan scored five goals for Australia, including the tiebreaker with a minute left.