Olympic sport since 1900
Women's water polo was one of the new events at the Sydney 2000 Games, adding another dimension to a game long ranked among the most demanding. Prohibited from touching the bottom or side of the pool through four seven-minute quarters, water polo players swim up to five kilometres in a game. They require the technique and endurance of a champion swimmer, plus a football player's finesse in passing, dribbling and shooting for goal and a rugby player's strength to battle for the ball.
|Italian Allessandro Calcaterra (R) fights or the ball with Dimitros Mazis of Greece during their Water Polo World Cup match in Budapest June 15, 2006. [Reuters]
In fact, water polo began as an aquatic version of rugby in the mid-1800s in England, before evolving into a waterborne semblance of football (soccer). By the turn of the century, it had become so popular in Europe and North America that it was included in the programme for the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris.
Tall, long-armed athletes are the prototype for the game, where 85% of the body is submerged. About the same underwater percentage holds true for the grabbing, holding, kicking, wrestling and yanking of swimsuits that makes the game even tougher.
Eight teams qualify for the women's division at the Olympic Games while 12 compete in the men's division.
In the men's event, the qualifying teams are divided into two pools of six for a round-robin preliminary heat. The top four teams from each pool advance to the quarter-finals, and the quarter-finals winners advance to the medal rounds.
The women's teams play a full round-robin preliminary heat, with the top four teams advancing to the semi-finals. The two teams failing to advance play to determine fifth and sixth place.