Australia and Olympic Water Polo
The gold medal winning performance by the Australian women at their home Olympics in Sydney is the overwhelming highlight for Australia in this sport. In a nail-biting finish, Australia’s Yvette Higgins scored the winning goal with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. At Beijing 2008, after a series of bad luck for the women's team in not reaching the grand final, they beat Hungary by one goal in a thrilling match to win bronze, giving many of the girls their first Olympic medal after placing fourth at Athens in 2004.
In 2012, Australia's women's team went agonisingly close to making the gold medal playoff at the London Games as they went down to eventual champions USA in extra time in the semi finals. They bounced back strongly to secure their second straight bronze medal defeating Hungary 13-11.
The women’s team went to Rio 2016 with gold in their sights, however their tournament was cut short after a devastating quarter final loss to Hungary. After scores were locked 8-all at the end of regular play, the teams went straight into a penalty shootout where Australian went down to Hungary 11-13.
Australia first sent a men’s water polo team to London in 1948 and one of the team members, Les McKay, carried the Australian flag in the Opening Ceremony. The 1948 water polo team was the first to represent Australia in a mainstream Olympic team sport. Australia’s men have not won a medal in water polo with the best placing being fifth at 1984 Los Angeles and 1992 Barcelona.
In London the men made the quarter-finals after winning their final preliminary round match against Greece 13-8. Buoyed from that performance the Aussies took a 8-6 lead into the final quarter against eventual bronze medallists Serbia but were unable to progress to the semi finals going down 11-8 and eventually finishing the tournament seventh. Despite a consistent tournament with two wins, two losses and a drawn, the men’s team failed to qualify for the quarter finals at Rio 2016.
Water polo is the oldest Olympic team sport having been contested continuously at every modern Olympic Games since Paris 1900. Football also debuted in 1900 but was not held at the Los Angeles 1932 Games.
Women’s water polo made its debut at Sydney 2000. Much of the credit for its inclusion on the Olympic program can be credited to lobbying led by Australia, the United States, Canada and Holland. In a fitting conclusion to the Sydney tournament, the two countries that perhaps were the greatest proponents for the sport to gain Olympic status, Australia and the United States, played off for the gold medal.
One of the most famous Olympic water polo games was between Hungary and the USSR in Melbourne 1956 known as the “blood in the water” match. The game was played a few weeks after the USSR had invaded Hungary to quell an uprising. Hungary won the game after a bloody contest, and then went on to win the gold medal.
To score, players must throw the ball into the goal which floats on the water 3 metres wide and 0.9m high. Apart from the goalkeeper, who is allowed to touch the bottom of the pool in the 4-metre goalkeepers area, players cannot touch the bottom of the pool in any active part of the game, if so, a foul is given. Each game is played over four eight-minute periods.
Eight teams play in the women's division at the Olympic Games while 12 compete in the men's division. In the men's event, the qualifying teams are divided into two pools of six for a round-robin preliminary heat. The top four teams from each pool advance to the quarter-finals, and the quarter-finals winners advance to the medal rounds.
The women's teams play a full round-robin preliminary heat, with the top four teams advancing to the medal rounds. The two teams failing to advance, play to determine fifth and sixth place.