Host City: Stockholm, Sweden
Venue(s): Swimming Stadium, Djurgården Bay, Stockholm
Date Started: July 7, 1912
Date Finished: July 16, 1912
Format: Single-elimination tournament.
Water polo had been contested at the 1900, 1904, and 1908 Olympics. The 1904 Olympic water polo had been conducted under some unusual rules and only American club teams competed. The 1900 and 1908 Olympic water polo tournaments had both been won by teams from Great Britain. The 1900 British team had all been members of the same club, the Osborne Swimming Club of Manchester, while the 1908 team was more a “national” team, with members from four differing clubs.
In 1912, the matches consisted of two periods of seven minutes each, effective playing time. In the event of a tie, two extra periods of three minutes each were played. The tournament was played according to the “Bergvall System,” named after Erik Bergvall, President of Svenska Simförbundet (Swedish Swimming Association). In the Bergvall System, second place was not awarded to the losing finalist, but a separate second-place tournament was conducted among all teams losing to the winning team. Similarly, a third-place tournament was then conducted among all teams losing to the second-place team.
Great Britain was the favorite again in 1912 and did not disappoint, winning the gold medal. In their first round match, however, they were severely tested by the Belgian team, only winning in overtime by 7-5. In fact, Belgium led 3-2 at the half, and took a 4-2 lead early in the second half before Paul Radmilovic scored two goals to tie the match at 4-4 in regulation. In the semi-finals, Great Britain played Sweden. They led 2-1 at the half, but Sweden pulled even, 3-3, shortly after intermission. Britain scored the last three goals to win, 6-3. Having survived those two difficult matches, the final was easy for the British team. They defeated an overmatched Austrian team 8-0, scoring four goals in each half.
Four members of the winning 1908 British team returned to Stockholm in 1912 to defend the gold medal: George Wilkinson, Charles Smith, George Cornet, and Paul Radmilovic. Wilkinson, in fact, had also competed in 1900 for the Osborne Swimming Club team and thus had already won two water polo Olympic championships. Considered by many the first great water poloist, he started his career at the Osborne club before moving to the Hyde Seal Swim Club in 1902. He captained that water polo team for 22 years, and led them to nine Amateur Swimming Association titles, and an international victory over Brussels at the “World Championships” of 1904 in Paris.
Charles Smith represented the Salford Swimming Club, and won Olympic water polo gold medals in 1908, 1912, and 1920. He was goalie for the British national team from 1902 through 1926 and also competed at the Olympics of 1924. In winning his 1920 gold medal he was 41 years, 214 days old, making him the oldest Olympic water polo gold medalist. Less is known about George Cornet, a member of the Inverness Swimming Club, but he did represent Scotland 17 times in water polo between 1897 and 1912.
Paul (Pavao) Radmilovic had one of the longest Olympic careers of any Olympic water poloist. He competed in water polo at the Olympics of 1908, 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1928, one of only three Olympians to have competed in five water polo tournaments. But because of World War I, his span of 20 years competing in Olympic water polo is the longest on record, although equalled by Paul Vasseur of France, who competed in 1900, 1906, 1912, and 1920. Radmilovic also competed as a swimmer at the Olympics of 1906, 1908, and 1920, giving him six consecutive Olympic appearances between 1906 and 1928. He won four Olympic gold medals in all - water polo in 1908, 1912, and 1920 and as a member of the winning 4 x 200 metre freestyle relay in 1908. Welsh-born of a Greek/Macedonian father and an Irish mother, in 1967 he became the first Briton to be inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame.