In the Olympics: Women's Games, Men's Games, and Panda Bears, OH MY!

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet
09/15/08

In the Olympics we got to see almost as much Team Handball, Beach Volleyball and Rhythmic Gymnastics as we did Swimming events and Field and Track events. But the greatest surprise was the number of Men’s and Women’s Water Polo games we got to see – ain’t streaming video grand?  If you couldn’t make it up to 2:00 am EST to see a game live you could watch it later on streaming video. Of course watching those games on streaming video was not as good as being there but it was a heck of a lot better than past Olympics where getting to watch a minute of a water polo game was as scarce as seeing a positive Presidential commercial on TV.

I think we should all send the people at NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC a note of thanks for the water polo coverage in 2008 Beijing Olympics. Maybe next Olympics they will be able to top it. The water polo community is not as large as some other sport’s communities but it can be more crafty and vocal than a number of other larger sports. Look what we did in the gold medal sports poll when we decided to rally around the US Women’s Olympic Water Polo Team. Don’t forget to send those thank you emails and/or snail mails to NBC.

Also at the 2008 Olympics we had a lot to be proud. A men’s water polo team ranked ninth in the world which beat several teams ranked much higher than them.  The US Team ends up in the Gold Medal Game with Hungary and loses by a very respectable score of 10 to 14 to the team that had won the last two Olympic goal medals. First medal in 20 years and it is Silver. Had two players, Tony Azevedo and Merrill Moses, make the All Olympic Tournament Team. This is the cake the men’s team served us at the 2008 Olympic Games. The icing on the cake was when we beat Serbia 10 to 5, a team that finagled a loss in the first round of games so they could play the “easier” USA team instead of another European power house team in the semi-finals. How sweet it was to see the US Team double the score of the Serbian Team. Finally, how many of you sent a US male player a personal congratulation on the USAWP web site?

A US Women’s Team has won a medal in every Olympics in which women’s water polo has been played. This year in the 2008 Olympics they won the Silver, in 2004 Olympics they won the Bronze, and in 2000 Olympics they won the Silver. No other team in the world has ever accomplished that notable achievement in water polo. They also had a player, Jessica Steffens, make the All Olympic Tournament Team. (What does it say about the people in our water polo program and community who are devastated when their US Women’s Team wins the Olympic Silver medal. It is too bad the women are not playing for a country like Hungary where they would be genuinely appreciated.) Finally, how many of you sent a US female player a personal congratulation on the USAWP web site?

Don’t let us forget to send the Head coaches and their coaching staffs a personal congratulation on the USAWP web site as well. All of them did one hell of a job, a job in which every time I am reminded I bust all the buttons off of my shirt and a job that makes me proud to be a water polo playing, coaching, and watching American. If you really want to learn water polo then you should click “Articles” on the WPP home page and read the articles in Guy Baker’s Coaching Corner and read the articles in Terry Schroeder’s Back to Fundamentals. The icing to this double layer cake was that both coaches were “Born in the USA”.

In addition to all this I even thought the refereeing was the best I have seen it in several past Olympics. In fact there was a water polo miracle in Beijing  because I actually witnessed several peripheral fouls away from the ball being called. As a result there were more drives in this Olympics than there were in the last two World Championships combined. I have said a hundred times a dynamic game is much more fun to watch and play than a static game. In my opinion the refereeing could have been improved if the TWPC would have placed two referees with similar styles on a game – especially the critical games.

On several games there were referees with immensely, varying styles. One referee would be quick to eject a 2 meter defender when the defensive team was crashing back. The other referee hardly ever called an ejection on the 2 meter defender when the defensive team was crashing and he/she would call a contra-foul on the 2 meter player before calling an ejection on the 2 meter defender. If you watch the entire game you would note that both referees were consistent in the way they called his or her interpretation of the foul. When this happens; however,  it causes some spectators to become confused about what is or what isn’t a foul. Thus for critical games assign two referees that interpret these types of fouls in the same way.

As much as I enjoyed the Olympic Games this year I sometimes pine for the Olympics of old where men and women were men and women and not men and men; where drugs were used to stop pain not enhance performance; where all the athletes but those from the Communist bloc countries were amateurs; where the athletes and games were more important than the big wigs that ran the show; and where the Olympic Games were awarded on the basis of merit rather than politics and the size of the country’s pocket book.

When my oldest granddaughter Chelsea was six or seven I taught her to chant U S A, U S A, U S A when we were watching the Olympic Games. She is 19 today and a sophmore cadet in the US Military Academy at West Point and the chant has a profoundly new meaning for me. I hope with ever fiber in my body that we elect a President that will not send her and hundreds of thousands of young people in harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary for the defense of this country – no more preempted attacks caused by misinformation and a group of zealots surrounding the President. My other hope is that when Chelsea becomes a grandmother that the Olympic Games are still being played, so she will have the opportunity to teach her grandchildren the chant U S A, U S A, U S A!  

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com