American Kami Craig (12) works against Spain's Matilde Ortiz Reyes… (Julio Cortez / Associated…)
LONDON – This was Maggie Steffens' first Olympics, and it certainly won't be her last. It will be difficult to have a better one, and impossible to cap future tournaments with a better ending.
The 19-year-old piled on five more goals to her tally in London and the U.S. women's water polo team finally broke through for a gold medal, holding off Spain, 8-5, in the championship match at Water Polo Arena.
Silver medals in 2000 and 2008 now get slid to the side of the mantel, making way for a gilded moment that arrived via a dominant effort.
PHOTOS: 2012 London Olympics | Day 13
The U.S. faced two early deficits, with Spain scoring first and then later building a 2-1 lead on Jennifer Pareja's second score of the night.
Then whatever part of the water Spain occupied starting looking like the kiddie pool.
The U.S. ran off six straight scores overall, three from Steffens. Four straight scores before halftime completely recast the momentum, capped by an emphatic Steffens score in which she battled through two defenders near the goal mouth and then spiked in her third goal.
She started the scoring in the second half with a penalty shot, and then veteran captain Brenda Villa lasered in a score to make it 7-2 midway through the third quarter.
And then Steffens helped author the most emphatic moment of the match: U.S. goalie Betsey Armstrong stopped a penalty shot early in the fourth and Steffens scored seconds later, making it 8-2 with a little more than seven minutes to go.
The U.S. then ground to a halt and got sloppy with exclusions, allowing Spain to score three in a row, the last with 54 seconds to play. But Spain got no closer.
Steffens finished the Olympics with 21 goals over six games.
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