U.S. water polo team tests Olympic pool
Annika Dries will be blogging for espnW throughout her training for this summer's London Olympics. Check back in June for more from Annika on the journey.
Though we're still 73 days from the opening ceremony, I've already had a taste of what the Olympics is going to feel like. Two weeks ago I got to see the London water polo pool for the first time. Walking in, you could feel the energy of the place -- it's a bright pool surrounded by stadium seating with flags of all the countries lining the ceiling. We were there for our first practice of the London Prepares series, and since no one was there but us, we could just take it all in: the look, the feel, the smell, even the taste of the water. This pool is our blank canvas; our opportunity to perform as a team at the highest level.
After that awe-struck first practice, we settled in a bit and were ready to test the pool with some games. We played Australia, our longtime rival; Hungary, the team that just placed fourth at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Italy; and the home team Great Britain, a team that has never competed at the Olympics, so is pretty much new to the international scene.
We beat Hungary decisively and edged Australia by one point before getting to our biggest game: Great Britain. It was our first-ever look at the team, and we knew there would be quite a crowd. Well, it was also the Olympic Stadium's "Super Saturday" official opening, and so the pool was completely sold out! With the 5,000-seat stadium filled, it was a perfect rehearsal for the Olympic Games. Great Britain played tough and we ended up beating them by one. While we didn't play our best in that game, it was great to get a win in that pool against the home team.
Unfortunately, we then got edged by Australia one day later in the gold-medal match. We played strong, but I know we can play stronger, and we ended up losing by just one point: 5-6. We'll be excited to meet up with them again in London in a few months!
During our downtime we toured the Olympic Park, visualizing our dreams of Olympic gold, and visited a kid's club in the center of London. We played with the local kids and talked to them about our sport. The first boy I met told me he liked to swim but that it was hurting his eyes. I asked him to show me his goggles and how he was wearing them. The goggles were too big for his face, but I knew they could fit if we just tightened them. I showed him how to adjust the sides and he put them back on with a big grin. It sounds so small, but it took me back to when I learned how to tighten my own goggles, when I started swimming and water polo. And it was in that moment, seeing that kid's smile, that I recalled all the little bits of giving and teaching that have gone into my journey. You really learn constantly from others around you, your parents, your mentors, your peers, and your teammates.
But this is really still the beginning of my journey. Seeing and playing in the actual Olympic pool sparked a fresh drive and focus toward the Games as we count down the final days. While I can imagine now what it's going to be like when we play there for real in a little over two months, we're still not playing our best just yet. As we continue to train, we are constantly challenging each other knowing that, at the end, little things make a big difference. Time to tighten my own goggles, jump in the pool, and keep training!
Read Annika's previous blog, about one of the proudest moments of her career, here.