U.S. Women’s Water Polo Won its Third Straight Gold Medal
TOKYO – The US women’s water polo team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal on Saturday, beating Spain 14-5.
The United States took the lead 6-1, and after a brief flurry of Spain, led 7-4 at halftime. But Spain didn’t score at all in the third quarter and the game was almost over.
Maddie Musselman led the balanced attack with three goals. There was also a goal for Maggie Steffens, the captain and for years the best player in women’s football, who, along with Melissa Seidemann, won her third gold medal.
“It wasn’t just one player,” said Steffens. “It wasn’t two players. You look over there and we had different people who got blocks, different people who got huge goals here, different people who were guarding.
The United States played the lockdown defense, putting bodies in front of plenty of shots from Spain before they even reached goal. Ashleigh Johnson, widely regarded as the best goalie in the world, played most of the game and saved 11 of the 15 shots that hit her.
“His presence, you can feel it, even when you’re offensive,” Musselman said of Johnson. “You hear his voice wherever you are.”
The road to the title was not as easy as expected.
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, the American team seemed almost unstoppable: between the 2016 and 2020 Games, they amassed a record 128-3. Spain have also been the opponent of the Americans in the last two finals of the world championship. The United States won those games, 11-6 and 13-6.
But the Americans suffered an unexpected group game loss to eventual bronze medalists Hungary 10-9. The team only shot 29 percent that day; in the final, that figure was a more characteristic 54 percent.
The team had expressed concern ahead of the Olympics as the pandemic had limited their matches against top opposition.
Coach Adam Krikorian said ahead of the Games that it was “difficult when you just faced each other” and sometimes struggled to motivate the players: “We had so much success, and it’s natural for us. to relax a little bit. “
If the players relaxed a bit against Hungary, it was out of their system for the final, which looked like the kind of frolics that fans of the squad have seen for years.
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