Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): Ying Tung Natatorium, Beijing
Date Started: August 10, 2008
Date Finished: August 24, 2008
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
Hungary had won the gold medal in both 2000 and 2004, but since the Athens Olympics, had made a habit of finishing second in major championships, mostly to Serbia. Serbia & Montenegro won the 2005 World Championships over Hungary, and in 2006 Serbia defeated Hungary in the final of both the World Cup and the European Championships. In 2007 Hungary again placed second at the World Championships, this time losing in the final to Croatia. Serbia was the favorite in Beijing, having won the World Superleague Final earlier in the year.
In group play, Hungary won Group A, while the United States surprisingly won Group B, advancing both teams directly to the semi-finals. There they were joined by Serbia, who defeated Croatia in one quarter-final, and Montenegro, who defeated Spain in the other. Obviously the remnants of Yugoslavia were still top notch in water polo. Hungary defeated Montenegro 11-9, in one semi-final, while in the other, the United States surprised Serbia, winning 10-5. The final was close for three quarters, with Hungary leading 9-8 at the halftime break. The USA scored early in the third quarter to equalize at 9-9, but Hungary then put the match away with five straight goals, before the US added a meaningless final goal with just under two minutes remaining, as Hungary won the gold medal, 14-10.
For Hungary this was their ninth gold medal in Olympic water polo, all by their men, and their 15th medal in all. From 1924-80 they had won medals at 12 consecutive Olympics. The United States won their ninth Olympic water polo medal, but other than the unusual 1904 Olympics, none of these were gold. Serbia won the bronze in Beijing, which was the 10th medal won by Yugoslavia (7), Serbia & Montenegro (2), or Serbia (1).
In a preliminary round match against China, Serbia’s Aleksandar Šapić became the third Olympic player to score nine goals in one match, after Hungarian János Németh in 1932, and Yugoslav Zoran Janković in 1968. Šapić was Serbia’s top player and had led the Olympic tournament in scoring in both 2000 and 2004, but was not available for the semi-final match against the USA in 2008, having hurt his knee, he returned to Serbia for surgery. The leading scorer in the 2008 men’s tournament was Italy’s Alessandro Calcaterra with 27 goals. This was the fourth highest scoring Olympic tournament ever, trailing Manuel Estiarte (ESP) and [Nicolas van der Voet] (NED), with 33 in 1984 and 1968, respectively; Eraldo Pizzo (ITA) with 29 in 1968; and equalling Estiarte, who also scored 27 in 1988.