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Disappointing Start USA Womans
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Friday, 14 December 2007
LONG BEACH, California – The U.S. women’s water polo team has gotten off to a disappointing start in its first two competitions since winning gold and qualifying for the Olympics at the Pan Am Games in July. The Americans’ 37-game winning streak and perfect 2007 season came to an end earlier this month with a loss to Russia in the early rounds of the small Four Nations Cup in Montreal. The U.S. women took second place in the four-country tournament, but notably lost the title game to Australia, the team widely considered to be its top competition going into Beijing.

Holiday CupThe team’s third-place finish at the Holiday Cup in Long Beach this past weekend marked the end of another winning streak: six straight Holiday Cup titles. The American women went 3-3 – losing to Russia, Australia and the Netherlands – but came back convincingly in a rematch against the Russians, winning the bronze-medal game 17-7. Italy – the 2004 Olympic champion – won the tournament, while the Netherlands placed second. Australia, meanwhile, recorded a disappointing fifth-place finish (out of six countries competing).

While it would be too hasty to downgrade the Americans’ status as gold-medal favorites going into Beijing, their off-kilter return is a wake-up call that the competitive landscape has become more crowded as the Olympics draw near. Currently, the U.S. and the Netherlands are the only teams to have secured Beijing berths (not including China; guaranteed a spot as the host nation but expected to be a non-factor). Australia will face New Zealand later this month for the Oceania berth. The remaining four spots of the eight-country Olympic tournament will be awarded to the top finishers at February’s world Olympic qualifying tournament in Italy.