In the aftermath of a pretty heady victory over the Soviet Union, an impressive 8-7 triumph at the Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool late Friday night that put the U.S. water polo team into the gold medal game against Yugoslavia Saturday night, there were pats on the back all around.
While U.S. goalie Craig Wilson had a grin that told it all, Kevin Robertson reached out to pound him on the back from one side and Terry Schroeder did the same from the other side. They were explaining how the United States had managed to beat the team that had beaten them in the 1987 World Cup.
“Defense,” Robertson and Schroeder said. “Defense.”
Wilson made 8 saves, getting a couple of his most decisive, most intimidating stops in the opening minutes, establishing a precedent and conceding nothing to the highly respected Soviet goalie, Evengui Sharanov, who had 3 saves.
The game was tied, 1-1, when Wilson made his biggest stop, shooting so high out of the water to make the play that he left no doubt he was ready for the game.
“I don’t know how it happens or why it happens, but every once in a while you have a game like this,” Wilson said. “In a big game like this you can get the extra lift. The ball looks like a beach ball. It looks big and it looks like it’s coming in slow motion. That comes from being ready for big games like this.”
Wilson, 31, a veteran of big, international games, was not nearly so familiar with the Soviets as he is with most of the other teams the United States has encountered here. He spent hours Wednesday, Thursday and early Friday in the film room at the Olympic Village studying the Soviets’ games here. And he spent a lot of time with the shot charts and other information that U.S. Coach Bill Barnett and his staff had compiled.
Wilson gave the coaches a pat on the back, saying: “Our coaches have put together fantastic information.”
The result was a convincing victory over a strong Soviet team and a pass to the final game to play a familiar nemesis.
Yugoslavia rallied to tie the United States in the 1984 Olympic final, a memorable game played in the Pepperdine pool. Yugoslavia tied the game in the final seconds--with the help of a referee’s call that is still discussed by both sides--and won the gold medal on total tournament goals.
The U.S. team never felt good about settling for the silver medal. Four of the players on the current U.S. team--Wilson, Schroeder, Robertson and Jody Campbell--were in the water that night and need no further motivation. In fact, it was the feeling of unfinished business that kept them on the team for 4 more years.
The United States opened the tournament here with an 8-7 victory over Yugoslavia, which along with the Soviets was favored to win the gold medal.
That the second chance at the gold would turn out to be against Yugoslavia, which advanced with a 14-10 victory over West Germany Friday night, is perfect.
“How many people get that kind of a chance?” Wilson asked. “I don’t think many people have a chance to get back to a gold medal game to try again 4 years later.”
Wilson said that the team, which had not been playing to its potential in the early games here, played the best he had ever seen the United States play water polo in beating the Soviets. And he suggested another pat on the back for Doug Kimbell for pitching in.
Kimbell was called into action early Friday night, with 1 minute 30 seconds left in the first period, when Campbell was ejected with three major fouls.
Assistant coach Steve Heaston said that, even though the coaches realized that Campbell had picked up two early fouls, the Soviets had taken a quick shot--ending Campbell’s penalty time and putting him back in the action--before there was a break that would allow them to substitute.
Campbell, himself, had been unaware that the first foul, an offensive foul, had been called on him and that he was playing with two fouls when he picked up No. 3.
Heaston said of indicated that Kimbell: who had played in place of Campbell, and said: “That guy right there saved us on that. He played the game of his life.”
Kimbell scored a goal, putting the United States up, 3-1, with 3 minutes 40 seconds to play in the second period. Mike Evans made a long shot less than a minute later to give the U.S. a quick 4-1 lead.
With 56 seconds left in the period, Wilson saw trouble coming and called out to his teammates for help but the defense was out of position and Mikhail Ivanov beat Wilson in front of the net. The Soviets then pulled to within a goal, at 4-3, on a shot by Evengui Grichine off a perfect pass with 8 seconds left in the period.
But the Americans went up by two goals again when Schroeder opened the third period with a score on a rebound off the goal post. Robertson made it 6-3 when he scored after a pass from James Bergeson.
The game was in control.
Peter Campbell finished with 2 goals and Robertson had 2 goals.
“It was very much a team victory,” Schroeder said. “When we lost Jody Campbell, a lot of guys picked up the slack. Anytime you play the Soviets or Yugoslavs, it’s a battle out there. It will be even more so tomorrow night.”
Although the United States has played the Yugoslavs many times since the gold medal game in 1984, including 9 games on a recent tour that Yugoslavia made to Southern California, Schroeder said that the gold-medal game will be different from all the rest.
Barnett said: “I think they’ll come out with a vengeance.”