In The Swim Of Things
Sure, it's played in a pool... but men's water polo is a far cry from a leisurely round of Marco Polo. See why we think more people should be talking about this Olympic sport rife with testosterone, tension and washboard abs.
It's no secret to anyone who knows me (and some who don't) that I am extremely competitive. As in I race my husband to the mailbox and have epic board game battles with my sibs. The Olympics, then, provide an excellent outlet for my pent-up competitive nature. Simply watching others duke it out for first place gets my adrenaline pumping. However, in order to hyperdrive my endorphins, I need a sport with some suspense. Cycling doesn't do it for me -- sorry! But, when I tuned in to a men's water polo match earlier this week, I couldn't help becoming enmeshed in the aquatic activity. How did I not love this sport before? Between the brisk pace of the matches and the unbridled enthusiasm exhibited by players and fans, my competitive nature found nirvana.
One glance at the players' lithe bodies in scant suits affirms (and what an affirmation it is!) that these fellas are in peak physical condition. Those hot bods aren't just for looks, ladies. They are a necessity! In September 2011, the popular sports site Bleacher Report ranked water polo the toughest sport in the world, topping heavyweight contenders such as football and hockey. The grueling game consists of four quarters lasting eight minutes each. During that time, players must maintain the speed, strength and endurance needed to move through the water without touching the floor. They must also fight off multidirectional assaults from their opponents, propel themselves out of the water to catch and/or toss the ball, and -- oh, yeah -- try not to drown... a feat easier said than done in a sport associated with violent grabbing, grappling and even nipple twisting. Yep, nipple twisting. Bet Michael Phelps never has to contend with that.
While it's true water polo is wildly popular in Europe, tons of factors make it ideally suited to be a popular American pastime, too. First, what red-blooded American doesn't enjoy spending sunny days on the beach or in the pool? The U.S. men's water polo team epitomizes an amphibious way of life: more than half of the team was born in and virtually all reside in coastal California, where they spend so much time in the water it's surprising they've yet to sprout gills or grow fins. Another reason our country should root for these guys? They're smart. The Olympic roster includes four grads from Stanford, three from UC Irvine, two from both Pepperdine and University of Southern California, and one from UC Berkeley -- all prestigious institutions of higher education. Defender Peter Hudnut even took two years off the team to return to Stanford and earn his MBA.
A Killer Roster
As I watched these guys take down Romania 10-8 to remain undefeated in Olympic play, it wasn't just their ability to play the game that impressed me... it was how well they played it together. The team is stacked with veteran players -- team captain Tony Azevedo, attacker Peter Varellas, center Ryan Bailey, and goalkeeper Merrill Moses, to name a few -- whose camaraderie plays out in the pool as fluidly as the medium in which they play. The team remains virtually unchanged since winning Silver at Beijing, the first Olympic medal won by a U.S. men's water polo squad in two decades. Our MVPs? The team's "elder statesman," 36-year-old Ryan Bailey, who is both smokin' hot and super humble, along with 2008 Olympic All-Star goalkeeper Merrill Moses, whose megawatt smile is just as winning as his game.
Images courtesy of Jeff Cable/USA Water Polo