BEIJING The American water polo team couldn't pull off what might have been dubbed the Miracle in Water, losing to a more experienced Hungarian team after a rousing back and forth battle in the gold-medal match.
The burly Hungarians attacked relentlessly throughout the game, poking holes in what, until the final game, had been a stingy American defense. The 14-10 victory at Beijing's Yingdong Natatorium is the third straight Olympic gold medal for Hungary. In the semifinal, the U.S. had allowed Serbia just five goals.
"They were shooting the ball well today and when they get going like that they are tough to stop," said Ryan Bailey, the U.S. man in the middle, who took a beating up front.
"You never want to get in a scoring battle with the Hungarians because they are such great shooters. We wanted to make it a defensive game, but we just didn't get it done."
The Hungarian squad got help from a thundering crowd of flag-waving, horn-blowing fans who sang and chanted throughout the match, completely drowning out a few feeble attempts by American fans to get "U-S-A" chants going. Whenever the underdog U.S. team got the ball a chorus of whistles and jeers echoed through the arena.
Still, for three quarters it was a tight match. The two sides traded goals, with each side taking one point leads only to give up a goal on the next possession.
The real battle was in the middle, where Bailey repeatedly attempted to find room for a close shot. The saying goes in water polo that anything goes that the referee cannot see and the Hungarian defense was throwing everything at Bailey, denying him the ball with what appeared to be leg locks, dunkings and various underwater tactics that would make some people blush.
Denied the middle, the U.S. went to former Stanford star Tony Azevedo, who scored four goals on the night. When his teammates couldn't get it to Azevedo, they went to Layne Beaubien, also out of Stanford, who scored two goals. Azevedo (17 goals) and Beaubien (8) ended the Olympics as the top U.S. scorers.
In the end, the U.S. just could not stop the Hungarians' attack or penetrate their defense. Hungary outscored the U.S. 5-1 in the fourth quarter, turning a 9 -9 game into a comfortable win.
"You always got to believe you have a chance to win, but when the seconds are ticking down and you realize we're gonna probably not win this game, that's a slap in the face. It stings," said Beaubien. "We were with them for awhile but they just kept coming and that's why they are three-time (consecutive) gold-medal champions."