Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): Ying Tung Natatorium, Beijing
Date Started: August 11, 2008
Date Finished: August 21, 2008
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
The United States was the World Champion and World Cup champion coming into the Olympics, having defeated their arch-rival, Australia, in the final match of the 2007 World Championship and 2006 World Cup. The USA had been world silver medalist in 2005, losing in the finals to Hungary. Defending Olympic champion Italy, also the 2001 World Champion, had somewhat fallen from their perch, not making the podium in either 2005 or 2007.
The United States and Hungary followed the seeding and won their group play, seeding directly into the semi-finals, as Greece and Russia were eliminated from medal contention. In the quarter-finals, Australia and the Netherlands moved on to the semis, defeating China and Italy, respectively. The USA met Australia in the semis, defeating them 9-8, while the Netherlands qualified for the final by defeating Hungary 8-7.
The final started out as a rout as the Netherlands went ahead, 4-0, the first two goals scored by their star, Daniëlle de Bruijn, but the USA fought back and tied the match, 5-5, at halftime. De Bruijn again scored the first two goals of the second half to give her team a 7-5 lead, but the Americans again clawed back, and tied it 8-8, when Moriah van Norman scored early in the fourth quarter. However, Daniëlle de Bruijn was the best player of the 2008 women’s tournament, and with only 26 seconds left on the clock, she scored again to give the Netherlands the 9-8 lead, with one US player in the sin bin, and the eventual gold medal. It was her seventh goal of the match, an Olympic record. Dutch goalie Ilse van der Meijden saved the gold medal for the Netherlands with two saves in the final 10 seconds of the match.
At three Olympic women’s water polo tournaments, the USA had medalled each time but had yet to win the gold medal. De Bruijn was the leading scorer of the 2008 women’s event, scoring 17 goals, including her seven in the final match. In the quarter-final match between Italy and the Netherlands, Hungary’s Ágnes Valkai faced her sister, Erzsébet Valkai, who had played for Hungary in 2004, but by 2008 was representing Italy, having married Italian volleyballer Roberto Vestuto.