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History of water polo

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Title: History of water polo  
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Collection: History of Sports, Water Polo
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History of water polo

The history of water polo as a team sport began in mid {19th} century England and Scotland, where water sports were a feature of county fairs and festivals.[1][2] Men's water polo was the first team sport introduced at the modern Olympic games in 1900.


  • Development of the game 1
    • Local rule variations 1.1
  • Olympic competition 2
  • International play 3
  • Results of the major international championships 4
    • Olympic Games 4.1
    • Championships organized by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) 4.2
      • I. FINA World Aquatics Championships 4.2.1
      • II. FINA Water Polo World Cup 4.2.2
      • III. FINA Water Polo World League 4.2.3
  • US colleges and clubs 5
  • Notes 6
  • Further reading 7
  • See also 8
  • External links 9

Development of the game

William Wilson, Scottish aquatics pioneer and originator of the first rules of water polo.

The rules of water polo were originally developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Great Britain by William Wilson. The modern game originated as a form of rugby football played in rivers and lakes in England and Scotland with a ball constructed of Indian rubber. This "water rugby" came to be called "water polo" based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball, it means pulu.[3][4] Early play allowed brute strength, wrestling and holding opposing players underwater to recover the ball; the goalie stood outside the playing area and defended the goal by jumping in on any opponent attempting to score by placing the ball on the deck.

By the 1880s, the game evolved that stressed swimming, passing, and scoring by shooting into a goal net; players could only be tackled when holding the ball and could not be taken under water. Canada was one of the first countries outside Britain to adopt the sport. The Montreal Swimming Club which had formed in 1876 formed a water polo team in 1887 and games were played in the St. Lawrence River along the shore of St. Helen's Island. To deal with constant changes in rules, in 1888, the London Water Polo League was founded and approved rules to allow team competition, forming the foundation of the present game. The first English championships were played in 1888. In 1890, the first international water polo game was played; Scotland defeated England, 4–0.[5]

Water polo final at the 1908 Summer Olympics

Between 1890 and 1900, the game developed in Europe, with teams competing in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Hungary and Italy, using British rules. A different game was being played in the United States, characterized by rough play, holding, diving underwater, and soft, semi-inflated ball that could be gripped tightly and carried underwater. In 1900, the sport of water polo was added to the program of the Olympics – the first team sport to be added.[6] Due to the different codes, European teams did not compete. By 1914, most US teams agreed to conform to international rules.[7] An international water polo committee was formed in 1929, consisting of representatives from Great America and the International Amateur Swimming Federation (FINA). Rules were developed for international matches and put into effect in 1930; FINA has been the international governing body for the sport since that time.

Over the years, both technical and rule changes affected the character of the game. In 1928, Hungarian water polo coach Béla Komjádi invented the "air pass," or "dry pass", a technique in which a player directly passes the ball through the air to another player, who receives it without the ball hitting the water. Previously, players would let the ball drop in the water first and then reach out for it, but the dry pass made the offensive game more dynamic, and contributed to Hungarian dominance of water polo for 60 years.[8] In 1936, James R. ("Jimmy") Smith, California water polo coach and author of several books on water polo mechanics, developed a water polo ball made with an inflatable bladder and a rubber fabric cover, which improved performance. The previous leather ball absorbed water and became heavier during the game. In 1949, rule changes allowed play to continue uninterrupted after a referee whistled an ordinary foul, speeding up play. In the 1970s, the exclusion foul replaced a point system for major fouls; players guilty of this foul were excluded for a 1-minute penalty and their team forced to play with fewer players. Possession of the ball was limited to 45 seconds before a scoring attempt. Time of penalties and possession has been reduced since then. The direct shot on goal from the seven (7) meter line after a free throw was allowed in 1994, and changed to a five-meter throw in 2005.

Local rule variations

United States

In 2006, revisions were made to the NFHS 2006–2007 swimming/diving and water polo rulebook (USWP and NCAA rules still vary). The four and seven-meter lines were merged to a five-meter line. Under the revised rules, a goalkeeper may use two hands and stand on the bottom of the pool (if shallow) until the 5-meter line, and go beyond the 5-meter line according to the field rules (one hand on the ball no standing), but still not pass the half line. The goalie may strike the ball with a clenched fist, although this is not recommended.

New cap rules were also enacted. A goalie cap must now be in quarters alternating red/dark for home and red/white for away. The goalie must be number 1, 1a, or 1b. For women, a red swim cap must be worn under the goalie cap. A team's dark swim cap is no longer acceptable as it is hard to distinguish a goalie from field players if official cap is off.

Olympic competition

Game at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Men's water polo at the Olympics was the among the first team sports introduced at the 1900 games (along with cricket, rugby, football (soccer), polo (with horses), rowing and tug of war).[9] Women's water polo became an Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games after political protests from the Australian women's team. Such protests were rewarded when Australia won the gold medal match against the United States with a "buzzer-beater" last-minute goal, taken from outside the seven-meter line.

Some of the best ever include Spain's Manuel Estiarte who played in a record six Olympics and led in scoring for four of them. Dezső Gyarmati of Hungary won water polo medals at five successive Olympic Games (gold 1952, 1956, 1964; silver 1948; bronze 1960), a record in water polo.[10] Another major figure in the sport was Tamás Faragó,[11] who led Hungary to Olympic Medals in 1972, 1976 and 1980. The play of American Terry Schroeder[12] led the United States to its first Olympic silver medals in 1984 and 1988.

The most famous water polo match in history is probably the 1956 Summer Olympics semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union. As the athletes left for the games, the Hungarian revolution began, and the Soviet army crushed the uprising. Many of the Hungarian athletes vowed never to return home, and felt their only means of fighting back was by victory in the pool. The confrontation was the most bloody and violent water polo game in history, in which the pool reputedly turned red from blood. The Hungarians defeated the Soviets 4–0 before the game was called off in the final minute to prevent angry Hungarians in the crowd reacting to Valentin Prokopov punching Ervin Zador's eye open. The Hungarians went on to win the Olympic gold medal by defeating Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final. Half of the Hungarian Olympic delegation defected after the games. A documentary by Lucy Liu, Freedom's Fury, premiered in April 2006, recounting the events of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and climaxing with this politicized game.

International play

Every 2 to 4 years since 1973, a men's FINA Water Polo World League, in which the best national teams compete against one another in an annual season format with nearly half a million dollar purse.

Internationally, the biggest water polo competition in the world is played in the Netherlands. Prince William of Wales was the captain of his collegiate water polo team at St Andrew's University, Scotland. The annual Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities is the sport's longest running rivalry, first played in 1891.[13]

Results of the major international championships

Olympic Games

Olympic medals in men's water polo
Games Gold Silver Bronze
1900 Paris Great Britain Belgium France (1)
France (2)
1904 St. Louis United States United States United States
1908 London Great Britain Belgium Sweden
1912 Stockholm Great Britain Sweden Belgium
1920 Antwerp Great Britain Belgium Sweden
1924 Paris France Belgium United States
1928 Amsterdam Germany Hungary France
1932 Los Angeles Hungary Germany United States
1936 Berlin Hungary Germany Belgium
1948 London Italy Hungary Netherlands
1952 Helsinki Hungary Yugoslavia Italy
1956 Melbourne Hungary Yugoslavia Soviet Union
1960 Rome Italy Soviet Union Hungary
1964 Tokyo Hungary Yugoslavia Soviet Union
1968 Mexico City Yugoslavia Soviet Union Hungary
1972 Munich Soviet Union Hungary United States
1976 Montreal Hungary Italy Netherlands
1980 Moscow Soviet Union Yugoslavia Hungary
1984 Los Angeles Yugoslavia United States West Germany
1988 Seoul Yugoslavia United States Soviet Union
1992 Barcelona Italy Spain Unified Team
1996 Atlanta Spain Croatia Italy
2000 Sydney Hungary Russia Yugoslavia
2004 Athens Hungary Serbia and Montenegro Russia
2008 Beijing Hungary United States Serbia
2012 London Croatia Italy Serbia
Olympic medals in women's water polo
Games Gold Silver Bronze
2000 Sydney Australia United States Russia
2004 Athens Italy Greece United States
2008 Beijing Netherlands United States Australia
2012 London United States Spain Australia

Championships organized by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA)

I. FINA World Aquatics Championships

(Source: FINA Men's Water Polo Records)
Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
1973 Belgrade, Yugoslavia  Hungary  USSR  Yugoslavia
1975 Cali, Colombia  USSR  Hungary  Italy
1978 Berlin, Germany  Italy  Hungary  Yugoslavia
1982 Guayaquil, Ecuador  USSR  Hungary  Germany
1986 Madrid, Spain  Yugoslavia  Italy  USSR
1991 Perth, Australia  Yugoslavia  Spain  Hungary
1994 Rome, Italy  Italy  Spain  Russia
1998 Perth, Australia  Spain  Hungary  FR Yugoslavia
2001 Fukuoka, Japan  Spain  FR Yugoslavia  Russia
2003 Barcelona, Spain  Hungary  Italy  Serbia and Montenegro
2005 Montreal, Canada  Serbia and Montenegro  Hungary  Greece
2007 Melbourne  Croatia  Hungary  Spain
2009 Rome, Italy  Serbia  Spain  Croatia
2011 Shanghai, China  Italy  Serbia  Croatia
2013 Barcelona, Spain  Hungary  Montenegro  Croatia
2015 Kazan, Russia  Serbia  Croatia  Greece
(Source: FINA Women's Water Polo Records)
Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
1986 Madrid, Spain  Australia  Netherlands  United States
1991 Perth, Australia  Netherlands  Canada  United States
1994 Rome, Italy  Hungary  Netherlands  Italy
1998 Perth, Western Australia  Italy  Netherlands  Australia
2001 Fukuoka, Japan  Italy  Hungary  Canada
2003 Barcelona, Spain  United States  Italy  Russia
2005 Montreal, Canada  Hungary  United States  Canada
2007 Melbourne  United States  Australia  Russia
2009 Rome, Italy  United States  Australia  Russia
2011 Shanghai, China  Greece  China  Russia
2013 Barcelona, Spain  Spain  Australia  Hungary
2015 Kazan, Russia  United States  Netherlands  Italy

II. FINA Water Polo World Cup

(Source: FINA Men's Water Polo Records)
Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
1979 Belgrade, Yugoslavia  Hungary  United States  Yugoslavia
1981 Long Beach, California  USSR  Yugoslavia  Cuba
1983 Malibu, California  USSR  Germany  Italy
1985 Duisburg, Germany  Germany  United States  Spain
1987 Thessaloniki, Greece  Yugoslavia  USSR  Germany
1989 Berlin  Yugoslavia  Italy  Hungary
1991 Barcelona, Spain  United States  Yugoslavia  Spain
1993 Athens, Greece  Italy  Hungary  Australia
1995 Atlanta, Georgia  Hungary  Italy  Russia
1997 Athens, Greece  United States  Greece  Hungary
1999 Sydney  Hungary  Italy  Spain
2002 Belgrade, Serbia  Russia  Hungary  FR Yugoslavia
2006 Budapest, Hungary  Serbia and Montenegro  Hungary  Spain
2010 Oradea, Romania  Serbia  Croatia  Spain
2014 Almaty, Kazakhstan  Serbia  Hungary  Croatia
(Source: FINA Women's Water Polo Records)
Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
1979 Merced, California  United States  Netherlands  Australia
1980 Breda, Netherlands  Netherlands  United States  Canada
1981 Brisbane, Australia  Canada  Netherlands  Australia
1983 Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada  Netherlands  United States  Australia
1984 Irvine, California  Australia  United States  Netherlands
1988 Christchurch, New Zealand  Netherlands  Hungary  Canada
1989 Eindhoven, Netherlands  Netherlands  United States  Hungary
1991 Long Beach, California  Netherlands  Australia  United States
1993 Catania, Italy  Netherlands  Italy  Hungary
1995 Sydney  Australia  Netherlands  Hungary
1997 Nancy, France  Netherlands  Russia  Australia
1999 Winnipeg, Canada  Netherlands  Australia  Italy
2002 Perth, Western Australia  Hungary  United States  Canada
2006 Tianjin, China  Australia  Italy  Russia
2010 Christchurch, New Zealand  United States  Australia  China
2014 Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia  United States  Australia  Spain

III. FINA Water Polo World League

Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
2002 Patras, Greece  Russia  Spain  Hungary
2003 New York  Hungary  Italy  United States
2004 Long Beach, California  Hungary  Serbia and Montenegro  Greece
2005 Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro  Serbia and Montenegro  Hungary  Germany
2006 Athens  Serbia and Montenegro  Spain  Greece
2007 Berlin, Germany  Serbia  Hungary  Australia
2008 Genoa, Italy  Serbia  United States  Australia
2009 Podgorica, Montenegro  Montenegro  Croatia  Serbia
2010 Nis, Serbia  Serbia  Montenegro  Croatia
2011 Firenze,Italy  Serbia  Italy  Croatia
2012 Almaty,Kazakhstan  Croatia  Spain  Italy
2013 Chelyabinsk,Russia  Serbia  Hungary  Montenegro
2014 Dubai, UAE  Serbia  Hungary  Montenegro
2015 Bergamo, Italy  Serbia  Croatia  Brazil
Year and City Gold Silver Bronze
2004 Long Beach, California  United States  Hungary  Italy
2005 Kirishi, Russia  Greece  Russia  Australia
2006 Cosenza, Italy  United States  Italy  Russia
2007 Montreal, Canada  United States  Australia  Greece
2008 Santa Cruz, Spain  Russia  United States  Australia
2009 Kirishi, Russia  United States  Canada  Australia
2010 La Jolla, United States  United States  Australia  Greece
2011 Tianjin, China  United States  Italy  Australia
2012 Changshu, China  United States  Australia  Greece
2013 Beijing, China  China  Russia  United States
2014 Kunshan, China  United States  Italia  Australia
2015 Shanghai, China  United States  Australia  Netherlands

(Source: FINA)

US colleges and clubs

Peter J. Cutino Award

Today club water polo is gaining popularity in the United States. Though the majority of domestic club teams are based in California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas, New England and Missouri preparatory high schools also often field teams. Club water polo teams in the United States often compete in national championships such as Junior Olympics, National Club Championships, and the Speedo Cup. Club teams from Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Michigan were entered at the 2005 USWP Junior Olympics.

Aniko Pelle (Hungary) and Sofia Konoukh (Russia) were among the first of an increasing number of international players competing in U.S. collegiate women's water polo. Because of water polo's increased popularity globally, the influence of international coaches like USC's Jovan Vavic from the former Yugoslavia, and the perks of attending an American college, international players are attracted to the premier US colleges. The 2005 Hawaii women's water polo team, coached by Canadian Michel Roy, has nine international players, the most of any team in the nation.

Teams from California dominate at the collegiate level. In the United States, water polo players tend to have prestigious academic backgrounds as well. A number of players, including former USA team captain Wolf Wigo, who retired after Athens 2004, Jacqueline Frank DeLuca, bronze medal Olympic goalie, and international phenom Tony Azevedo attended Stanford University. The sport's most notable balancing act to date includes Omar Amr,[14] who played on the US National Team while attending Harvard Medical School and recovering from a near career ending knee injury in 2001.

College championships

In the 2008 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship, the UCLA women beat University of Southern California 6 to 3, for their fourth consecutive championship title. In the 2007 Men's NCAA Finals, the UC Berkeley Golden Bears defended their 2006 title by defeating the No. 1-ranked USC water polo men, 8–6. The most prestigious individual water polo honor, the Peter J. Cutino Award, was established in 1999 by the San Francisco Olympic Club, and is presented annually to the top American male and female collegiate water polo player. In 2008, Tim Hutten from UC Irvine and Courtney Mathewson from UCLA won the Cutinos.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition (1911): "Water Polo" Retrieved 7 August 2006
  2. ^ Barr, David (1981). A Guide to Water Polo. Sterling Publishing (London).  
  3. ^ 12th FINA World Championship 2007: Classroom Resource Retrieved 20 September 2007
  4. ^ polo. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved 20 September 2007, from website
  5. ^ Pro Water History and Development of Water Polo, by Yiannis Giannouris Retrieved 4 September 2006
  6. ^ Tracie Egan (1 August 2004). Water Polo: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 11–.  
  7. ^ USA Water Polo: History of Water Polo Retrieved 4 September 2006
  8. ^ International Swimming Hall of Fame: Bela Komjadi
  9. ^ International Olympic Committee Water Polo Site
  10. ^ International Olympic Committee Athlete Profile: Deszo Gyarmati
  11. ^ Tamas Farago Biography at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  12. ^ Terry Schroeder Biography at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  13. ^ Oxford-Cambridge Water Polo: Varsity Match History
  14. ^ US Olympic Team Biography of Omar Amr

Further reading

  • Charroin, Pascal (1998). L'eau et la balle: Une histoire du water-polo (in French). Harmattan. p. 248 pages.  
  • Norris (Ed.), Jim (April 1990). The World Encyclopedia of Water Polo by James Roy Smith. Olive Press. p. 513 pages.  

See also

External links

  • Water Polo Competitions and Winners Worldwide
  • FINA Media Room
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