2001 was the start of the new quadrennial, but also the start of holding the FINA World Championships every two years with their debut in Fukuoka, Japan.
US Water Polo made a big departure by hiring a new coach in Ratko Rudic from Yugoslavia, one of the most successful coaches in the World, who guided Italy to a Gold Medal in Barcelona in 1992. The men finished in 7th place, with Spain taking the Gold Medal followed by Yugoslavia and Russia. The women made the Medal Round, but finished in 4th place behind Italy, Netherlands and Australia. In 2002 it was back to the familiar FINA Cups, with the men traveling to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where they finished in 7th place with Russia winning the Gold Medal followed by Hungary and Yugoslavia; and the women traveling to Perth, Australia, with Hungary winning the Gold Medal, USA the Silver and Canada the Bronze.
Ratko established the Premier League in the United States which had the main Clubs (New York AC, The Olympic Club, Newport Water Polo and Los Angeles Water Polo) playing against Zone teams from throughout the US consisting of top college players. Each team, Club and Zone had to have at least 2 high school athletes on their team and they had a required number of minutes to play in each game in order to expose them to a higher level of play. I was selected to serve as Commissioner for the League and worked closely with Ratko to be sure that the League operated properly.
2003 was the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, where the men finished in 6th place while Hungary was winning the Gold Medal, followed by Italy and the newly formed Serbia and Montenegro; while the women won the Gold Medal, followed by Italy and Russia. At the Pan American Games, held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the men continued on top with the Gold Medal, followed by Brazil and Canada, thus qualifying us for the Olympic Games. While the women also qualified by winning the Gold Medal, followed by Canada and Brazil.
US wins Bronze Medal game in 2004 Olympics
2004 was another Olympic Year, with the Games being held in Athens, Greece. The men finished in 7th place, with Hungary winning the Gold Medal, followed by Serbia and Montenegro, with Russia in third place. The women won the Bronze Medal, with Netherlands winning the Gold and Greece the Silver Medal.
2004 US Olympic Women's Team
In 2005, Ratko Rudic received an offer to return to his native Croatia to become their Head Coach. US Water Polo graciously released him from his contract and allowed him to return home. Guy Baker stepped up and took over the men’s team and led them to the 2005 World Championships in Montreal, Canada, where they dropped to 11th place; meanwhile, the women took the Silver Medal, with Hungary in 1st place and Canada in 3rd place.
In 2006, due to their finish in Montreal, the men did not qualify for the FINA Cup, which was held in Budapest, Hungary, and was won by Serbia and Montenegro, followed by Hungary and Spain. The women traveled to Tiajing, China, where they made the Medal Round, but finished in 4th place behind, Australia, Italy and Russia.
This article was first posted on the American Water Polo web site
and they graciously allowed the Water Polo Planet to re-post it.