Sunday, August 12, 2012
U.S., after silver in Beijing, takes 8th
ESPN.com news services
LONDON -- The U.S. men's water polo team ended its dismal Olympic campaign with a thud.
The Americans, who entered the Games with hopes of improving on their silver medal four years ago in Beijing, closed play in London on Sunday with their fifth straight loss, falling to Australia 10-9 to drop to eighth place.
"Not a very good way to finish, for sure," coach Terry Schroeder said.
As it had much of the tournament, the United States fell behind from the get-go against Australia, giving up a goal 27 seconds into the game and trailing 4-1 by early in the second quarter.
Australia extended the lead to 10-6 in the second half, and the U.S. only made the final score close with a flurry of goals in the last two minutes.
In the gold-medal game later Sunday, Croatia won its first Olympic gold in the event, getting two second-half goals each from Miho Boskovic and Maro Jokovic to pull away from Italy for an 8-6 win.
With two of the best defenses and goalkeepers -- Italy's Stefano Tempesti and Croatia's Josip Pavic -- in the tournament, the final was a defensive struggle.
Playing for the bronze, Vanja Udovicic scored with less than a minute to play and Serbia rallied from a three-goal fourth-quarter deficit to beat Montenegro 12-11 and win its second straight bronze.
In a rematch of the 2008 Olympics bronze-medal match, Montenegro pulled ahead 11-8 in the fourth quarter before Serbia got a goal from Slobodan Nikic and two more from Filip Filipovic to tie the score with just more than 90 seconds to play.
Udovicic then flipped in a pass from Filipovic with 55 seconds to go, and Serbia held on after Montenegro rattled the post twice in the closing seconds.
The Americans' loss brought a disappointing end to a bleak tournament for the U.S.
With 10 players back from the 2008 squad, the U.S. came to London convinced it had a good shot of winning the first American gold in men's water polo since the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.
The players dedicated themselves to the Games, forgoing the club season in Europe -- and its lucrative contracts -- to train together six days a week for seven months this year, with hopes of peaking in London.
And they started well, beating a tough Montenegro team in the opener before picking up wins against lowly Romania and Britain.
But when they faced the tournament's top teams, the Americans wilted, losing to Serbia and Hungary before being crushed 8-2 by Croatia in the quarterfinals, knocking the U.S. out of medal contention.
It didn't get any better in the games used to determine the final standings, and a team clearly short of motivation fell to Spain and then Australia to drop to eighth place.
"I thought we started out the tournament pretty strong, and then we faded," Schroeder said. "It was very difficult to come back from that quarterfinal loss, and motivate and try to find something inside, a reason to play."
By the end, the team's frustration and disappointment was clear in the slumped shoulders, dropped heads and strained voices of the players.
"Once you start playing badly, it's hard to get out of that mindset," captain Tony Azevedo said.
For many players, including top scorer Ryan Bailey and Adam Wright, the loss brings an end to their international careers. For Schroeder, who took over before Beijing, it marks the end of his tenure in charge.
For all of them, the coach said, it is a tough way to finish their time together. Schroeder said the team more have felt the pressure that "if we didn't win a gold medal, it's a failure."
The coach added: "The way that we look at it in American society that if you don't win that gold medal, second is great in the Olympics, but it's still not the achievement."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.