FolkestoneJack's Tracks

London Prepares… Water Polo

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 5, 2012

In common with many spectators in the Olympic park this weekend I was ready for a crash course in a new sport. On this occasion it was water polo on the agenda with a tournament between four teams of women (Australia, Great Britain, Hungary and the United States) to test the newly constructed water polo arena.

In many previous Olympic games water polo has shared a venue with other aquatic events, so it was fascinating to see what this dedicated space would be like. It holds two pools – a training pool out of sight from spectators and a competition pool – with most of the spectators seated on one steeply raked side. The arena certainly impresses when you step inside and it takes a moment to remember that it is only a temporary structure. I was sitting midway up and was struck by the great view this gave of the pitch. In terms of the spectator experience it seemed pretty decent.

The Water Polo Arena in the Olympic Park

The first match of the afternoon was Australia versus Hungary which had turned into a de facto semi final by dint of the results from the first two days of the tournament (both teams had beaten Great Britain and been beaten by USA). The Australians picked up an early lead that they never lost but the game was still fairly competitive at either end as proven by a final score of 17-12. It was a great introduction to the sport and I was soon familiar with the aggressive tackling, rapid changes in the direction of play and frequent changing of players. Much to my surprise I found that I was actually enjoying the game.

The second and final match of the day was between Great Britain and USA. According to the form book Great Britain should have been trounced by USA and initially it seemed that was indeed what we were about to witness, with the score standing at 4-0 fairly early in the match. However, something remarkable happened at this point – Great Britain began a spirited comeback.

Team GB gather together in a timeout during the final period of their game against the USA

The crowd picked up on the need to lift the team and each time advantage passed to the Americans a chant of GB, GB, GB… started from deep within the crowd accompanied by clapping. The effect was electrifying. Every save made by the Team GB goalkeeper received a cheer (as did any shot going wide or clanging against the bar) and the roar when Team GB scored was quite incredible, accompanied as it was by the stamping of 5,000 pairs of feet in the stands.

The determined play by Team GB brought the scoreline back to 5-4 in favour of the American visitors by the third period. The impossible suddenly seemed in reach and the crowd’s gasp as a chance to level the score fell short seemed loaded with that hope and expectancy. I heard someone remark that it was like watching an England penalty shoot out and I thought that was spot on – it was incredibly tense. In the event, Team USA scored again to take it to 5-7 and with just 90 seconds left it seemed to be all over. No-one told Team GB though and within the final minute Francesca Painter Snell scored again to an incredible cheer. The final score stood at a very respectable 7-6.

Match reports and interviews are available from the BBC and Team GB websites:

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