The U.S. may have had one key advantage over Spain as each nation tried to win its first Olympic gold medal in women’s water polo tonight: Chemistry.
Six of the 13 players on the U.S. roster are members of the New York Athletic Club, whose athletes have competed in every modern Olympics since the first in 1896, winning 231 medals, excluding 11 before today in London.
It paid off as the U.S. team added another title, beating Spain 8-5 in the final. The last time a team representing the U.S. won an Olympic water polo competition was 1904, when a NYAC squad took the gold.
“It’s always a great advantage to have opportunities to play with the same girls,” U.S. team member Heather Petri, a four-time Olympian who scored tonight, said yesterday. “You get to know them better in and out of the water.”
Petri and teammate Brenda Villa, who also scored in the final, won a record fourth consecutive medal after silvers in 2000 and 2008, and a bronze in 2004. Maggie Steffens scored five times for the Americans.
The Americans have played more than 40 games together in the past year, the 34-year-old Petri said in an e-mail yesterday, giving them a degree of experience and camaraderie that their opponents can’t match.
“The club embraces the fact that we love to play a sport that is relatively unknown,” Petri said. They “genuinely care to see us succeed at the highest level. During high stress Olympic training sessions, sometimes that is all you need.”
This year, 55 members of the NYAC are competing in the Olympics, including 15 in water polo, the club’s Athletic Director Cedric Jones said in a telephone interview.
“We’ve always been strong in water polo,” Jones said. The women’s team is “a strong-willed team, very talented. They play well together and they care about each other. They have chemistry.”
The experience of players including Petri and fellow attacker Brenda Villa, 32, is vital in high-profile match, Ellen Estes Lee, a member of the Athens and Sydney Olympic squads, said in a telephone interview. Eight members of the U.S. team have played in the Olympics before.
“The more of those matches you have under your belt, the more it’s going to help,” Estes Lee said.
Spain’s women were making their Olympic debut in the event, and tied the U.S. 9-9 in the preliminary phase, with the Americans coming from behind to outscore their opponents in the third quarter before drawing even in the fourth.
The U.S. was trying to end its run of last-gasp Olympic losses in the gold-medal match.
The U.S. was denied the chance at victory in the 2000 and 2008 finals as its opponent got late goals. In the inaugural tournament in Sydney, Australia scored with just over a second remaining to take the gold medal. Eight years later in Beijing, the Netherlands secured the win with 26 seconds remaining.
“Every member of the team is proficient at doing so many things,” Petri said. “So when you look at the bench there’s not a drop off at all.”
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