If you were to ask a Hungarian what their favorite sport was, I guarantee that a majority of them would respond with..... water polo. Yes. You read that right. Water Polo. That is because water polo is their national sport. It is televised regularly on TV and the athletes land in the tabloids as often as Hollywood celeb-utants. I'd say..... just about the equivalent of the NBA, MLB and NFL here in the States. Ok, our basketball, baseball and football players make quite a bit more money than any water polo player on the planet, so we are strictly dealing in terms of familiarity here.
Hungarians aren't the only ones enthusiastic about our sport. I played for a Greek team this past year during their professional season. At one point we traveled outside of Greece to compete in European Champions Cup games. On the way home, we arrived at the Athens airport and headed to find our bags. I didn't have a car and my family and friends were an ocean away. There would be no curb side pick up or a welcome home hug for me. I was thinking this would be a quiet uneventful exit of the airport. I was wrong.
As we neared the luggage carousel, right in front of the sliding doors leading to the awaiting forms of transportation, we started to hear the beat of a huge drum. Chants, cheers and clapping. What the heck was that? My team mates started smiling. For us? We walked out of the terminal to a sea of waiting people. All making noise, celebrating our return. Families, friends, supporters, reporters, media. My favorite was the group of young polo players that had been loudly beating the drum and chanting the name of our club. Seeing that kind of enthusiasm for our sport was inspiring and made me want to see that in America, for the US team.
So because of our sport's popularity in Europe and our own Nation's lack of an organized professional league, it is rare that people at home get to see us play. Maybe once a year may the opportunity arise. And that occasion was the World League Super Final last week in La Jolla, California. The top eight teams in the world came to us to compete! In front of OUR families, friends and fans! And we did not disapoint! In or out of the pool!
On the first day of competition when we pulled up to the pool we were greeted by huge USA Water Polo banners.....with our faces on them! I was so proud to see these awesome shots of my team mates and I drawing people in to watch. :) People started telling me that is what my Avatar would look like. I would love to see an Avatar play water polo!
Our new water polo mascot "Shiedly" also chose this tournament to make his debut! Coming to the pool deck to interact with kids, fans and athletes! We were also proud to pose with him, after six days of intense games, we came out victorious in the tournament beating the Aussies in a shoot-out! Our goalie, Betsey Armstrong, came up with a huge block against one of Australia's best shooter to put us one point ahead!