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BEIJING 2008

Hungary gets gold in water polo

It defeats the U.S., 14-10. The Americans, surprise finalists, win the team's first medal in 20 years.

August 25, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Yingdong Natatorium turned into a little slice of Budapest on Sunday afternoon as the Hungarian men's team cemented its status as the New York Yankees of water polo, winning a third straight Olympic gold medal.

Hungary's adversary in the final was the United States, a surprise guest but a worthy one, pushing the Hungarians hard for almost three quarters before collapsing defensively in the fourth in front of a large and vocal contingent of Hungarian fans.

Short term: Hungary won, 14-10, ripping through two American goalkeepers (Merrill Moses and Brandon Brooks) and executing almost at will on the power play, going seven for 10 with the man advantage. Daniel Varga and Peter Biros each scored three goals for Hungary.

Long term: If this silver, the first Olympic medal in 20 years, doesn't resuscitate the men's team in the eyes of USA Water Polo decision makers, then what will?

"For us, this is an amazing accomplishment," said veteran Tony Azevedo of Long Beach, who scored four goals.

He spoke about the much-chronicled tough times. The U.S. men were seventh in Athens in 2004 and dropped to ninth at the world championships last year and had their funding cut. Layne Beaubien, in a nice bit of understatement, called the current monetary support scant.

On top of that, the team couldn't seem to keep a coach, with three in three years, the final solution being the inspirational Terry Schroeder, who won silver medals playing with the U.S. team in 1984 and 1988.

"No one quit, and we kept working harder with different coaches," Azevedo said. "Finally, Terry arrived. Our only goal was to get up on the podium. We talked about that for the last four years and stressed it more this last year. For us, just to be here, all of us playing together, to me that's the proudest moment."

Pride and a sense of accomplishment might take time to sink in. Hungary plunged into the water after this latest win and celebrated, while the U.S. players watched from the pool deck. Peter Varellas cut a forlorn figure on the pool's edge.

Schroeder had spoken about wanting to get the chance to "have a swim today" but had to watch his Hungarian counterpart hit the water instead.

Said Schroeder: "It was painful to lose like that. Nobody expected us to be here."

He is uncertain about his future with the program. When asked about being around for the next campaign, London 2012, or even the near future, he would say only that he would "have to see."

"I have two young girls," he said, "and family is definitely the most important thing in my life."

As for Hungary, it scored five of the game's final six goals after scoring six in the first quarter. How do you say three-peat in Hungarian?

"You can't imagine," player Tamas Kasas said. "It's pretty nice, three times in a row. Maybe the biggest thing today was looking at the faces of the guys who were here for the first time. I saw me in their faces."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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