Silver is again the color for the U.S.
BEIJING -- It may have been the last shot Brenda Villa will take for the U.S. women’s water polo team. She strong-armed it over her head, and when the ball was tipped away the clock ticked off the final second.
For the third time since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport, the United States won a medal. That’s the bright side. It’s also the third time the Americans have come agonizingly close to a gold medal but settled for less.
The Netherlands won the gold with a 9-8 victory over the U.S. Thursday night at the Yingdong Natatorium. Australia won the bronze, 12-11, over Hungary in a shoot-out.
Danielle de Bruijn scored the game winner for the Dutch with 26 seconds left, the seventh goal the 30-year-old de Bruijn had in her final game before retirement.
Villa, 28, of Commerce, and Heather Petri, 30, of Long Beach, have played on all three U.S. Olympic teams and have lived through what teammate Natalie Golda called “the good times and the bad.”
The bad times have mostly been Olympic moments. In 2000, in front of the rabidly pro-Australia crowd in Sydney, the U.S. made an emotional comeback to tie the score only to lose on an Aussie goal with less than two seconds left. In Athens, where the U.S. was heavily favored, the team lost to Italy in the semifinals on another last-second goal and then rallied to win the bronze.
Coach Guy Baker said that bronze medal had made him proud, the way the Americans set aside their despair to play well in the third-place game, and he said he was proud again Thursday. His team had fallen behind, 4-0, in the first five minutes but stormed back for a 5-5 tie at halftime.
But the Netherlands pushed ahead in the third period when de Bruijn scored her fourth and fifth goals of the game. Villa got one of those back with her roaring one-hander, but after three periods the defending world champion Americans trailed, 7-6.
Alison Gregorka tied the score, 8-8, but that only meant that de Bruijn could be the hero in a way that has become achingly familiar to the U.S.
Villa said that her hope is to eventually look at this second Olympic silver medal plus the 2004 bronze as triumphs and not defeats. “No one else had three medals in the first three Olympics,” she said.
The Dutch had dominated water polo in the 1980s and early ‘90s, winning eight World Cup meets and one world championship. But since the sport was added to the Olympics, there had been no medals for them, and de Bruijn couldn’t keep away the tears Thursday. “I can’t believe we won,” she said. “It is a dream.”
*--* Medal winners G: Netherlands
S: United States
B: Australia *--*