The real men aquatics sport – Water Polo | Brief history


Most people love football, some people like hockey or basketball, some spectators watch tennis. Unfortunately, few of them know about the existence of such a sport as water polo. I want to tell you about this seemingly simple but rather unique and exciting game in this article.

The sport of our ancestors

Let’s start with the fact that water polo is one of the oldest sports, and the Scottish journalist and swimming coach William Wilson is considered the founder of this game. In 1877, Wilson created the first rules for a team ball game in water, which he called water soccer. The prototype for the game was famous in those days in Britain, rugby league. During the first games, players were allowed to use rugby elements. The goalkeepers were out of bounds – their goal was to prevent the opponent from putting the ball on the dock.

William Wilson
William Wilson / Wikipedia

The game got its modern look in the 1880s when it began to gain popularity in Europe, America, and Australia.

Olympic Games

For the first time, water polo was in the Olympic Games in 1900. Then, at the Olympic Games in Paris (France), the UK team took gold medals in their piggy bank, defeating their rivals from Belgium in the final with a score of 7-2. And since 2000, women’s teams have also participated in the Olympics. Separately, I would like to tell you about a not very good incident at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne (Australia). During the semifinal, in which the national teams of the USSR and Hungary met, a large-scale fight took place between the participants in the fight. The game was stopped at 4-0 in favor of the Hungarians. As a result, they reached the final and became Olympic champions. At the moment, this game between Soviet and Hungarian players remains the only one in the history of the Olympic Games that has not been completed.

“Blood in the Pool.” Water polo semifinals, 1956 Olympics USSR – Hungary

Modern water polo

Today, water polo is not like what was centuries ago. Since then, only rugby elements have remained. The striking technique has changed, which is very similar to handball and sometimes basketball, the players’ equipment has become more comfortable. The ball for the game has also changed. It was made much lighter than its predecessor. The leaders have also changed. Now the strongest are the national teams of Spain, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Hungary. In women’s water polo, American, Dutch, and Spanish are the main ones. At the club level, there is also the Champions League and the European Cup (the prototype of the football Europa League). The current owner of the Champions League Water Polo Cup is the Hungarian “Ferencvaros.”

LEN Champions League Final Eight 2019
“Ferencvaros” – Gold Medal LEN Champions League Final Eight 2019

Regarding Ukrainian water polo clubs, I can single out the performance of Lviv “Dynamo” in qualifying for the main club tournament in the 18/19 season, which, unfortunately, they could not overcome and were eliminated, taking the penultimate place.

Famous water polo players

As in many other sports, water polo has its legends and idols. For example, Dezho Gyarmati (1927 – 2013) – a two-time European Champion, the most titled athlete in the history of water polo at the Olympic Games. He took part in five Olympics in a row, three of which were triumphant for him and the national team.

For Ukrainians, Alexey Barkalov (1946 – 2004) is considered a legend among water polo players. Barkalov is known for his perseverance and dedication. Thanks to these qualities, together with the Soviet national team, he won two Olympic golds and became the World and European Champion. Besides, he holds the Guinness record for the largest number of games played in the Soviet national team.

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Andrey Chentsov
freelance journalist, Player of the Sports School #9, Kyiv

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