Interview with Eric Lindroth '72

Rich Foster
Water Polo Planet

Eric LindrothAfter interviewing Eric, I got the feeling he thinks that he was just a "pretty good" player. For those who saw him play, the humble two-meter man was dominating in high school, college and as an international player.

The 1969 graduate of Newport Harbor High School led the Sailors to two consecutive C.I.F. titles and was Co-Player of the Year his senior season. He was regarded as the best high school player in the nation.

At UCLA, he led the Bruins to NCAA Championships in 1969, 1971 and 1972. The only NCAA blemish was a double overtime loss to UC Irvine in the 1970 Championship Game. Eric was selected to the NCAA All-American team two times. According to UCLA coach, Bob Horn, "Eric was a brilliant player. At times he was too much of a giver. In the 1972 NCAA Championship finals I told Eric that I appreciate how you like to give opportunities to other players, but if you have a shot, take it. He lit up the nets and we demolished San Jose State 10-5."

Eric had an incredible thirteen year run on the U.S. National Team. He joined the team in 1970-only a year out of high school- and was the youngest member of the 1972 Bronze Medal team, and the only one with college eligibility left. He finally hung up his National Team hat in 1983.

Eric's career had some bad fortune, not of his own making. During his prime, he lost out on the chance to participate in the 1976 Olympic Games when the U.S. lost a squeaker to Mexico in the Pan American Games, which was the qualifying tournament for our continent. Then, four years later, he spearheaded a U.S. team, thought by many to be the best team in the world, only to be shut out of the Olympics when President Jimmy Carter instituted a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games due to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Eric lives in San Diego with Debi, his wife of thirty eight years. He designs kitchens and baths for a San Diego company. Eric and Debi are the proud parents of Lauren, Ryan and Cameron. Eric continues to play Masters Water Polo with Old Mission Bay Club in San Diego. Eric has led his team to the championship in the 60+ division the last three years.

FOSTER: In your sophomore year of high school, Newport Harbor got a new, young coach. Tell us about him.

LINDROTH: Yeah, Bill Barnett was hired. He turned out to be a tremendous coach and one the of best teachers of the sport there is. He brought in a coaching style much like Bob Horn and Monte Nitzkowski. He brought a new system of tactics and was really good at teaching us fundamentals. He did yell at us a lot, but he was really a dynamic coach.

UCLA 1971

The 1971 UCLA Team Which Won the NCAA Championship

FOSTER: I remember you as a player in high school. You must have gotten a ton of scholarship offers.

LINDROTH: Not really. UCLA was the only water polo school to offer me a scholarship. I did receive some offers from some east coast schools for swimming, but I wasn't interested in that.

FOSTER: In 1969, you matriculated to UCLA to play for Bob Horn. You had to be pretty amazed with the talent pool at UCLA.

LINDROTH: It was incredible. My first day of practice, I looked out and there was Torrey Webb, Jim Ferguson, Paul Becskehazy, Jim Puffer, Kevin Craig, Scott Massey, Kevin Craig and Greg Arth. They all would be all be All-Americans.

FOSTER: Your senior year brought UCLA its third NCAA Championship in four years. You were selected as Player of the Tournament, but you had some help.

LINDROTH: We had some really good seniors, like Kevin Craig, Scott Massey, Steve Doyle, Bob Neuman and John Rees. It was a really balanced team. We only lost one game that year.

UCLA 1972

The 1972 UCLA Team Which Won the NCAA Championship

FOSTER: You were the youngest player selected to the 1972 Olympic Team. What was it like to be on that team?

LINDROTH: I was the last player selected out of the training camp. I didn't get to play much, but it was a privilege to be part of that team. The players on that team were really good. I would say that some of the guys were among the best in U.S. history. We had great scorers like Bruce Bradley and Jim Ferguson. Stan Cole was playing in his third Olympic Games. Gary Scheerer was one of the most incredible field players in the world.

FOSTER: That team ended a forty year medal drought winning the Bronze Medal.

LINDROTH: I'm very proud of that medal, but we deserved better. We were ahead of Russian 6-4 in the final quarter and the referee made some questionable calls to allow Russia to tie us. That tie cost us a Silver Medal.

FOSTER: The crucial game for the Bronze Medal was against Italy. You held on for a 6-5 victory. Some say you won despite the refereeing.

LINDROTH: I remember watching the U.S. on a counter attack. Italy's best player was Gianni de Magistris and he had two majors. A third and he is out of the game. Gianni committed foul after foul on that counter, but the European referee didn't want to call the third foul on him. He ignored the first four, but finally had to call the third major on Gianni, which excluded him for the rest of the game.

Olympics 1972

1972 US Olympic Team Which Won the Bronze Medal

FOSTER: Winning the first medal in forty years called for a celebration.

LINDROTH: It did. We didn't make it back to the Olympic Village until about 3:00 a.m. The Village was closed, but the security wasn't like it is today, so we just had to jump the walls. The security was so lax that my brother snuck into the Village every day.

FOSTER: You woke up to an international tragedy.

LINDROTH: When we woke up the next day, the Palestinian terrorists had kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic team. It was scary, with marksmen on the roofs. Eventually, the terrorists would kill eleven Israeli coaches and athletes. That was really the first act of international terrorism. It changed things forever.

FOSTER: So, in 1975, you were probably in your prime, but the U.S. didn't qualify for the 1976 Olympics. What happened?

LINDROTH: To qualify, we had to win the 1975 Pan American Games. Unfortunately, we lost to Mexico, the host country. Mexico was good, but we should have won. The boisterous crowd definitely made a difference. But, there were other problems. As a team, we didn't have much continuity in style of play. From 1973 to 1975, we had three different coaches. We had three Olympians and three or four additional solid players on the team, but the coaches picked the rest of the players from their own college teams, so we didn't have the depth that we should have had. It was a difficult time for us. Afterwards, there were still scenarios that would have put us in the Olympics, but they were long shots and didn't materialize.

FOSTER: You guys rebounded, and by 1980, you had a formidable team. Many thought the U.S. was the best team in the world.

LINDROTH: One difference is that we had the same coaches, Monte Nitzkowski and Ken Lindgren, for the whole quadrennial. We had great players in every position. The 1980 team was really a super team. Terry Schroeder was the most dominant player at two meters. We had quick and athletic drivers like Joe Vargas, Kevin Robertson and Gary Figueroa. We had strong two meter defenders like Jon Svendsen, Drew McDonald and John Siman. There were no weaknesses on that team.

FOSTER: Jimmy Carter took the chance of Olympic Gold away from that team with his boycott.

LINDROTH: When the idea of a boycott first came up, we thought "no way." When the boycott was announced we were devastated. It was just awful. We knew we had one of the top teams in the World, but we had to watch from home. We had purchased an air and hotel package for my wife for about $3,000, and lost it all.

Olympic 1980

1980 US Olympic Team Wich Was Boycotted by President Carter

FOSTER: Over your career, you got to play for some incredible coaches.

LINDROTH: Yes, I was very fortunate. As I mentioned earlier, playing for Bill Barnett in high school was fantastic. Bob Horn at UCLA was a phenomenal coach. He was really a mastermind. At the National Team level, I also got to play for Monte Nitzkowski, Art Lambert and Kenny Lindgren. They were all outstanding. Monte was the best tactical coach in the world. Art really taught me the fine points of playing the two meter position. Kenny was a tremendous all around coach.

FOSTER: How do you compare today's game with the game in the 70's and 80's.

LINDROTH: Today's game is not as fun and at times it is boring. We had lots of movement, lots of driving. Players like Jim Ferguson and Jim Kruse were incredible at shooting the ball off the water. You rarely see that anymore. In the 70's and 80's, defensive players had to be athletic and clever. Today it is pure wrestling at two meters. I hear that FINA is going to have the men play with a smaller ball. Players throw the bigger ball incredibly fast. The small ball will create big safety problems for goalies.

FOSTER: I heard something interesting about you. You played for Brazil at the last FINA Master's Championships.

LINDROTH: Yeah, that was really fun. Paul Becskehazy is from Brazil and he organized the team. It was great to train in Brazil, see the Olympic venues under construction, and play with guys I played against years ago. That's the great part of playing water polo; you can make friends all across the world.

FOSTER: Here are some of Eric's incredible stats:

Elected to US. Water Polo Hall of Fame: 1988

Elected to International Water Polo Hall of Fame: 1990

Playing Record: H.S. 1967-68, Coll. 1969-72, Club 1969-present

Club Participation: Phillips 66, Fullerton Aquatic Club, So. Cal. All Stars, Industry Hills, Old Mission Bay Masters

College: University of California Los Angeles

4 Year Varsity Starter
NCAA Champions 1969, 1971, 1972
NCAA – MVP 1972
NCAA All American 1971 and 1972
NCAA 2nd Place – lost double overtime sudden death

High School: Newport Harbor H.S.

CIF Champions 1967 and 1968
CIF Player of the Year 1968
1st Team All American 1968

U.S. National Team

Member of US National Team 1970-83
Over 100 International matches 1970 – 1983
1972 U.S. Olympic Team – Munich, Germany - Bronze Medal
1980 U.S. Olympic Team – Moscow, Russia - U.S. Boycott

World Championship Team

1973 – Belgrade, Yugoslavia
1975 – Cali, Columbia
1978 – West Berlin

1975 – U.S. Pan American Team – Silver Medal – Mexico City
1979 – U.S. Pan American Team – Gold Medal – Puerto Rico

FINA Cup 1979 and 1983

11 times AAU 1st Team All American
1974 – James Lee Award – MVP AAU Nationals Championships
1981 – Lawrence Johnson Award – MVP to Water Polo last decade
3 times AAU World Championship Team