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A quick shout out to gary bobel for bringing this Associated Content Post!

O-k, I admit it: I have been an avid fan of water polo. In fact, for some reason I kept getting it confused with synchronized swimming. That is until this week, when I caught the 12th FINA World Championships on Italian television and saw for the first time that water polo is NOT a game to be taken lightly.

The Water Polo Championships were splitting coverage with the swimming competition which pretty much turned into the Michael Phelps Show. Now, sure, all these swimming races are exciting and inspiring and all that, but after a few days of watching people paddle back and forth across a pool, your average red-blooded American sports fan begins to wonder: Hey, where's the violence?

Fortunately — for me and no doubt countless others — the simple answer was to be found in water polo. I'm more convinced then ever that there's enough violence in an average water polo match to fill all of a person's brutality needs, at least until football season starts.

How is it that I never noticed and appreciated this sport before? Water polo is a combination of swimming, soccer and basketball, plus wrestling, boxing and maybe a little bit of mugging thrown in for good measure. But lest you think I'm taking the sport of water polo lightly, let me also say that the players are phenomenal athletes who perform amazing feats of speed, grace, stamina and ball-handling. They also perform amazing feats of kicking, punching, scratching, clawing and choking. And that's just the men. The women are also fond of a little rough housing and that's putting it lightly.

I'm pretty sure, that with the right marketing approach, someone like Vince McMahon could turn men and women's water polo into the same mega-million dollar franchise that he did with Professional Wrestling.

According to Layne Beaubien — veteran defender and member of the 2004 Olympic Team (and a member of this years Team USA World Championship squad) “…There's a lot of fighting,” says Layne Beaubien, 28, “Under the water, anything goes . . . even biting. All of us have had chunks taken out of our face. And there are a lot of broken noses…”

Beaubien says however that most water polo injuries are minor, “They're (the injuries) mostly superficial — broken fingers, broken noses, teeth, jaws, eardrums, stuff like that.”

Which tells you something about water polo: It's a sport played by folks who feel that broken noses and busted jaws are “superficial.”

God how I suddenly love this sport.

And speaking of Team USA. According to the Melbourne2007.com website which is covering the results of the 12th FINA World Championships, The United States has fought off Canada 16-11 to advance to the play-off for ninth spot in the men's water polo competition. (They play against Hungry on Thursday)

The Americans jumped to a 2-0 lead within the first two minutes of the match and settled into the game shooting accurately and blocking effectively.

It paid off when they scored almost instantly but the Americans were able to slot in two of their own. Going into the final quarter it was 13-9 in favor of America.

When the United States scored the first two goals in just over three minutes of the fourth quarter, Canada looked like it was on the verge of a thrashing. But to its credit it was able to slow the game down, keeping possession of the ball and through Kevin Mitchell and Daniel Stein they were able to sandwich another American goal with their own.

So what are the rules of your typical water polo match? According to usawaterpolo.org, the games begin with each team's starting seven members lined up on opposite ends of the 30-by-20-meter pool while the bright orange ball sits in a yellow plastic ring in the center. A ref blows a whistle and everybody (except the two goalies) sprints for the ball. As they get close, the yellow ring descends steadily to the bottom of the pool on a cord.

The team that snags the ball spreads out and moves toward their opponent's goal, a 10-by-3-foot net guarded by a goalie in a red swim cap. On offense, teams pass the ball around like basketball players, looking for an opening. Rules insist that they throw and catch with one hand. The other hand is used to fend off their opponents, who are permitted to tackle the player with the ball.

From above, the passing looks simple — until you remember that the players aren't just standing there playing catch. They're treading water in a 10-foot-deep pool, constantly whirling their feet around in the eggbeater motion that keeps their arms and shoulders up out of water.

Water polo is actually an incredibly tough sport, and requires an amazing amount of body strength and endurance to play. Goalies, which in a regulation-sized pool have no bottom to stand on, must use their legs to tread and propel themselves upwards with at least half of their body out of the water to block the ball. Fouls are generally encouraged, because it stops the person with the ball, and allows play to continue down the pool. Only fouls from behind, or using two hands on a player are call for a kick out.

The main difference between water polo and other sports is that due to the water slowing play down, there is a lot more emphasis on raw ability, endurance, strategy and…violence as opposed to pure speed.

I don't know about the television coverage in the US but on Italian television the network had two TV cameras sitting on the bottom of the pool capture some of this underwater skirmishing and show it during breaks between the game's seven-minute quarters. Through the murk of the water, you see elbows swung into guts, knees slammed into groins, hands yanking bathing suits into painful wedgies, guys simply swimming on top of an opponent and holding him under water until he fights his way, punching and kicking, to the surface.

Technically, none of this stuff is legal, but the refs working the poolside allow a certain amount of leeway. Blatant — and that's a relative term — fouls are punished by 20-second sentences in the penalty box. Twenty seconds may not seem like much, but that is usually long enough for the other team to score on a power play.

Water polo….definitely have to give this one a try.

 

You'll find more info on our main site gary bobel

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