MatchPint Olympics: Water Polo and Blood in the O.C.
“Welcome to the O.C. bitch!”
These were the immortal words uttered to a bloodied Ryan Attwood by Luke Ward, captain of the Harbor School Water Polo team, boyfriend of Marissa Cooper and full-time bell-end, in episode one of the popular US series, The O.C. The quote says all you need to know about Water Polo players: they’re friendly, they enjoy hanging out on beaches and they engage their philanthropic tendencies by throwing regular parties for communally owned neighborhood dogs.
Whilst the inner nerd in you might have sided with Jewish-geek Seth Cohen and Eminem-wannabe Ryan Attwood throughout the show, I held a begrudging respect for Harbor’s Water Polo captain in the O.C.’s first series: right from the outset, Luke was bunking up with two sweet hunnies in Marissa Cooper and Holly Fischer but as the series went on, he dealt coolly with his dad’s coming out, and by the end, he was in the sack with Julie Cooper, the world’s hottest redhead and mother of his ex-girlfriend.
But Luke Ward wasn’t the first Water Polo player to draw blood on the international stage. In 1956, Hungary and the USSR played out what is widely regarded to be the most famous match of all time – “The Blood in the Water Match”.
Set against the backdrop of a Soviet invasion of Hungary earlier in the year, the two sides met in the Olympic semi-final. With his side leading 4-0 going into the final minutes, Ervin Zador – up to this point a two-goal Hungarian hero – entered into an angry verbal exchange with USSR star man, Valentin Prokopov. Hearing the referee’s whistle go, Zador turned around, only to be met with the forceful fist of his Soviet opponent.
As he clambered out of the pool, blood was seen to be streaming from Zador’s right eye. Following their country’s invasion, this was the final straw for an angry Hungarian mob that’d turned out to watch their team. Supporters flooded down towards the pool, only to be halted by police before things took a turn for the worse.
Contrary to what Wikipedia would have you believe, an eye witness contacted me by fax earlier and confirmed that the colour of the water in the pool did indeed turn red within seconds of the punch, hence the name “Blood in the Water”. If only series two of the O.C. had been screened beforehand, then Zador may have heeded Zach’s advice that “Water Polo players are never nice”.
Yet despite the best efforts of Zador and Schwartz (one for the diehard fans there), Water Polo is still very much on the agenda for London 2012. In fact, punters have been flocking down pubs to catch this Olympic action every four years since 1900. Just like Archery, Water Polo seemed to slip under the radar at the inaugural games in 1896, but it’s been a permanent fixture from the second round onwards. In fact, it’s been such a permanent fixture that there’s not even a chance of the sport being axed, despite chumps like this milking it like they’re Sandy Cohen on American TV:
In case you’re wondering, here are some key facts about the sport – general enough that you’ll easily remember them, but niche enough that you’ll look like a first-class don when you whip them out down the pub beforehand:
1. There are seven players on each team, six outfield(?!) and one goalie.
2. Olympic matches are split into four, eight minute long quarters (unlike senior club play, in which quarters last nine minutes – that one’s definitely worth betting someone a pint on…).
3. The offensive player nearest the opposition goal is called the “Hole Set” (definitely whip that one out over a jar).
4. It is compulsory to wear Speedos (I can’t find any evidence that this is not the case).
In the men’s competition, twelve teams are split into two groups of six with each team playing each other in order to determine preliminary standings. The top four from each group play off in the Quarter-Finals (winner of Group A plays fourth in Group B, second in Group B plays third in Group A etc.) with the winners progressing to the semis and then the final.
The women’s tournament takes much the same form, though only eight teams compete. All eight teams progress to the Quarters at which point the format mirrors that of the men’s competition.
Hungary’s men have channeled the spirit of Ervin Zador and swept all before them since 2000, winning Gold at every Olympics since Sydney. They remain the team to beat at London 2012, having won Gold at the World Championships in 2011.
The women’s competition has only been at the games since some serious political lobbying from the Australian team in 2000. The results have yet to show a clear dominant nation, though the USA have picked at a medal at all three previous games - claiming Silver twice and a Bronze in Athens – and start as favourites.
Slim to nil - nothing else to say…
What with GB’s hopes hanging lower than a pre-steroids-fuelled Hulk Hogan, we’re not holding out for any pubs dedicating there plasmas to this baby. If you want to catch a bit of the Olympic Park atmosphere though, head over to the Goose in Stratford. The pub is a short walk from the Olympic Park and it’s bound to be rammed given its nine million screens, affectionate lagers and reasonably priced bar staff.
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