Water polo is little more than a century old and is a combination of American football, rugby, and soccer. The game is played in a swimming pool marked with specific boundary lines. During play, six players on each team attempt to get the ball into the opponent’s net, which is guarded by a goalie. A typical match has four seven-minute quarters. The sport is commonly played by males and females at the high school and college levels in addition to being an Olympic event. Various world countries also have professional teams.
In the Beginning
Rumor has it that the sport originated with players riding atop wooden barrels while striking the ball with mallets toward the opponent’s goal. The new game supposedly got its name as the sport was similar to equestrian polo. However, Scotsman and swimming coach William Wilson is credited with inventing the game in the 1880s. The first match took place in the River Dee, which is located in Aberdeen, Scotland. The sport soon gained popularity and was enjoyed in Great Britain and in America. By 1885, water polo was recognized by the Swimming Association of Great Britain, who also established a formal list of rules.
However, the American game had a different set of rules that enabled players to wrestle opponents and use other rough tactics that often included holding and using a submersible ball. The sport gained popularity in the states and was often played in renowned venues, which included Madison Square Garden.
Water polo first became an Olympic event in 1900. However, as the game rules differed in the United States and Europe, the event was not included in the 1904 Olympics, which were held in St. Louis. An international water polo committee was established in 1929. The group was instrumental in bringing all nations together in agreement to the set of rules.
20th Century Olympics
In all of the years that world countries have competed in water polo events, teams from Hungary have displayed unusual talent. Hungarian teams have enjoyed defeating other world teams since 1929. The Hungarians have the honor of winning medals in water polo through 1980. From 1932 to 1976, the team left the Olympics with six of the 10 possible gold medals. When the games were held in Sydney, Australia in 2000, the Hungarians once again walked away with a gold medal. The year was also the first time that women’s teams competed in the event.