Andy Burke (second from left) at USA Embassy in Cuba
1990 was an empty year, as the World Championships were held in January 1991 in Perth, Australia. I felt honored to be chosen by USAS to serve as Chef-de-Mission for the entire US Aquatic Team at these Championships. This entailed visits to Perth in January 1989 and 1990, to select the hotels for the US Team and work on the logistics for handling the different teams involved.
I made the first trip with Penny Taylor, who was the Team Leader for US Swimming. The organizers were surprised to see us this early, but were excellent hosts. After reviewing all the available hotels, we decided on the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle for all the teams except men’s water polo who wanted separate accommodations, and we selected a hotel in downtown Perth for them. A funny story is that about a year later, the Australian Federation contacted the Organizing Committee and said that they wanted the Esplanade Hotel as their Headquarters hotel. They were told sorry, but that the Americans already had it. Penny and I considered this a feather in our cap. Our men’s team played well, but ended up in fourth place, losing to Hungary 13-12. Yugoslavia was first with Spain second. In the women’s competition, Netherlands won the gold, Canada second and USA third.
Something interesting that happened at the FINA Congress in Perth was a proposal had been made to increase the time element of the game to four quarters of 9 minutes each. All of the major water polo countries, including the US, were in favor of this change. However, at the FINA Congress the smaller nations stood up and said that all this did was to allow the major countries eight more minutes to beat up on them and the proposal was soundly defeated. Funny how things are looked at from the different sides of a proposal?
1991 was also the Pan American Games, held in Havana, Cuba. We lost a very difficult game to Cuba for the Gold Medal, with Brazil taking third. The game was played on Fidel Castro’s birthday and he was present, so the Cuban team was sky high. I was privileged to escort Castro out to present the medals. I asked the Cuban member of the ASUA water polo committee if it would be okay to present Fidel with an ASUA pin. He said yes, but keep it in your hand, don’t reach into your pocket for it. When Castro came down from the stands he was accompanied by six bodyguards and two of them stood on either side of me when I welcomed him and presented the pin. Needless to say, it was not a very comfortable feeling.
The way the pool was laid out, the victory stands were separated from the stands by a building, so the crowd could not really observe the medal Ceremony. Our team asked me if it would be okay to sing Happy Birthday to Fidel, so I said okay and they did. Castro really enjoyed it, and much to chagrin of his bodyguards he went over and got right in the middle of the US Team. Many pictures were made from this episode. I have a great photo of myself and Castro when I was escorting him out to the medal ceremony. I have it sitting next to my cigar humidor and everyone always asked is that him? My response is that it is “Me and my cigar supplier”.
1992 US Olympic Team
1992 was an Olympic year and with Bill Barnett still at the helm, we prepared to play in Barcelona, Spain. The US again made the medal round, but lost to the Unified Team (the name they gave to the Russian Team after the breakup of the Soviet Union, so that they could participate) in the third place game, with Italy winning the Gold Medal and Spain the Silver Medal. With no Olympic competition, the women had the year off.
1993 brought both teams back to the FINA Cup, with the men traveling to Athens, Greece, to finish fourth behind Italy, Hungary and Australia. Bill Barnett had stepped down as National Team Coach and his place had been taken by Rich Corso, with Ricardo Azevedo and John Vargas serving as assistant coaches. The women traveled to Catania, Italy, where they finished sixth, with the Gold going to Netherlands, Silver to Italy and Bronze to Hungary.
1994 was the World Championships in Rome, Italy, with both teams participating. The men finished in sixth place, with the Gold going to Italy (home cooking is always best), Spain winning the Silver and Russia the bronze. The women finishing in fourth place behind Hungary, Netherlands and Italy
In 1995 the men’s FINA Cup was held in Atlanta as a test for the Olympic Games scheduled for Atlanta in 1996. The US again made the medal round, but again finished in fourth place, trailing Hungary, Italy and Russia. The women traveled to Sydney, Australia for their FINA Cup, finishing in sixth place, with Australia taking the Gold, Netherlands the Silver and Hungary the Bronze. 1995 was also the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The women were not yet included in these Championships, but the men won the Gold, with Brazil the Silver and Cuba the Bronze
This article was first posted on the American Water Polo web site
and they graciously allowed the Water Polo Planet to re-post it.