USA wins women’s water polo gold medal at Rio Olympics

Ivan Zaytsev of Italy spikes the ball against the US during their volleyball semifinals match of the 2016 Rio Games Friday. — Reuters

After seven years and two gold medals, the most successful women’s water polo coach in history said he needs a break, first for his family and then for himself. After returning to California to be with his family, he had little time to grieve before coming back to Rio in time for his team’s first game.

Prior to the match, the USA’s Maggie Steffens was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Johnson, who saved nine of the 13 shots fired at her in the final, got the nod as best goalkeeper.

“It’s incredible. It’s so awesome to be able to share this with my family, my friends and my coach”, said Johnson, who had transitioned from competitive swimming to become a water polo player and is the lone American on the US national team that is not from California. But like the United States, who have clinched a podium spot at every Olympics since women’s water polo made its debut in 2000, they are undefeated in Rio and have looked strong throughout the tournament. Krikorian also coached the team during the 2012 London Games. Krikorian’s wife surprised him at the gold medal game, and all the players gave their medals to Krikorian in a show of appreciation.

The team suffered a further blow when Penelope Leprevost fell in Sunday’s first qualifier and was out of individual competition.

Hamm, a two-time world player of the year, told Steffens and her teammates to embrace the favorite role heading to Rio de Janeiro.

“I’m really sad this team didn’t make it because they’re so good and they deserved to be in the final”, said Lee, who won gold in Beijing eight years ago and is in his third Olympics.

Brazil remains winless in the Rio games.

Roberta Bianconi and Chiari Tabani added two goals apiece for Italy, which, like the US, is trying to become the first two-time victor of the Olympic tournament. It was also the Olympics’ first all-European final.

The team mirrored that selflessness Friday, with five different players scoring the five first-half goals as the USA took a 5-2 lead and never looked back. Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens scored later in the period to give the US a 9-4 lead entering the fourth period. They’ve had nine different players reach the score sheet the last two games. Their son was a classmate of Makenzie Fischer at Laguna Beach High School.

Ivanova and Olga Gorbunova scored the first two goals of the game, but Italy gradually took over.

Arianna Garibotti and Roberta Bianconi have been the big names for Italy during the knockout rounds.

Huanhuan Ma, Zihan Zhao and Xinyan Wang scored two goals each for China, and Jun Yang came away with 16 saves in goal. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, she wants to get that block for our team”. This is the beginning of a bright new future for this team and to win silver is an extraordinary accomplishment.

On his emotions nearing the end of the game after the death of his brother before the tournament: “It was hitting me pretty hard”.

The Italians will play for gold Sunday against the victor of Friday’s semifinal between defending champion Russian Federation and host Brazil.