Monday, August 15, 2016

Blood, sweat, and pools.

I would like to congratulate the U.S. women's water polo team on its amazing 11-6 victory over water-polo-crazed Hungary in the Rio Olympics. While the men's team hit the wall against Montenegro, the women will continue today, against Brazil, and good luck to them. You may call it flag waving; I say--hell yeah!

Water polo is a very tough sport. It's a bit like basketball, with the nets, the quarters, the shot clock, the passing, and the chance for injurious contact, but you have to do it all while swimming and treading water in a seven-foot-deep pool. The quarters are only 8 minutes long, but you try it. It's exhausting.

So it should get more respect than it does. But we know why it doesn't.

It's the bonnets.

Yes, the protective headgear worn by the athletes look like baby bonnets; consequently they all look like babies.

And yet there's nothing babyish about the sport. In fact, one of the more violent games of the modern Olympics was the match between Hungary and the Soviet Union in 1956. The Soviet Union's team was a powerhouse that expected to win. The reigning champ Hungarians? Well, they were a little bit irked by the fact that the Soviets had just invaded their country to brutally quash a revolution by Hungarians who had been under the Soviet thumb since 1945. Not only were the Soviets running their country--they had also been observing (i.e., stealing) training tips from their water polo champion Hungarian subjects. So there was bad blood long before any of it was spilled.

The Melbourne "Blood in the Water" match, which literally had blood in the water, was ugly from the start, as the angry Hungarians decided that taunting the Russians was a good way to distract them. They were right. While the Hungarians endured some punches, they also won 4-0, much to the joy of the many Hungarian ex-pats in the stands. and would go on to win the gold against Yugoslavia. Then several of the Hungarians defected to the West.

There were no Olympic women's teams in water polo until 2000, because of the rough nature of the sport. Our lasses took the gold in 2012 and have hopes of doing so again in 2016. Fortunately no one remaining in the tournament has invaded any of their possible opponents recently.

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