For Debbie Watson, the introduction of the sport of women’s water polo to the Olympic program was the culmination of a dream. She had been among the leaders of successive but unsuccessful lobbying campaigns for inclusion of the sport at the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Games …and after the last of them, she retired in despair. Then, in 1997, the IOC announced that women’s water polo would be added to the program at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Her first reaction was that she couldn’t believe it; her second was to come out of retirement.
Watson’s status as the greatest Australian female water polo player is undisputed. She took up the sport at the age of 15, and was chosen in the 1983 Australian Open team after just two seasons in the sport. She went on to captain Australia from 1991 to 1996, was voted best player in the world in 1993, and led Australia to a string of world championship and World Cup victories. She won four gold medals at international level: the 1984 World Cup, the 1986 world championship, the 1995 World Cup and the 2000 Olympic title. A great defensive player, who could double at centre forward and possessed a powerful outside shot. Watson returned to the Team for the Sydney Games, after a two-year layoff, with Bridgette Gusterson (now Ireland) as captain.
The Australian team won a hard-fought Olympic final against the US 4-3, when Yvette Higgins unleashed an incredible, last-moment shot past two defenders and the goalie and into the net. Watson, who retired after the Games, described it as “a fairytale ending … it’s as if my mum wrote the script.”
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian