The water polo venue was located within the National Sports’ Center grounds. This was a huge complex which held the national stadium, natatorium (swimming pool), and handball court. It was a long walk from the Beituchen subway station, across vacant parking lots and along wide access roads. On previous days, the walk would have been very pleasant. Beijing’s temperatures, while I was there, were rather bizarre. We should have been a sizzling, sticky, humid 90 to 100 degrees. Instead, my arrival had us overcast and cool with the 70’s prevailing, even the 60’s at night. But Monday morning brought out the sun.
Walking in the burning heat over 30 minutes to the Ying Dong Natatorium was hot. I wouldn’t recommend it for those not in good physical condition.
The security check was fairly fast despite the lines. Once inside the complex, wide, grassy spaces and walkways gave spectators plenty of room to easily make it to the venue sights.
At the Ying Dong Natatorium, I made a quick stop into the women’s restroom to check my paint job. With painstaking care, I had written my “USA” and “US” on cheeks and arms. The sweaty walk to the center had concerned me that my colors had run. I certainly didn’t want anyone to confuse a indiscernable “US” with the United Kingdoms (UK), Ukraine (UKR) or Uzebekistan (UZ). I was pleased to note my letters remained bold. No mistaking my nationality.
My ticket placed me in the 101 section, at the far corner of the 50 meter pool. It wasn’t the best seat in the house but I had a great view of the pool.
For this last sport’s event I’d see for the Olympics, I had a companion. Irishman Willie Mahon, who runs his own stationary and printing business, was at the Olympics as a guest of Ireland’s Olympic boxing team delegation. He was attending all the boxing matches while in Beijing as well as taking in a few other events along the way. Water polo was a sport he knew nothing about. He felt it would be an interesting sport to catch that afternoon before cheering on his Irish boxers that evening.
I, too, knew very little about water polo. The two of us together managed to piece together the basics of the first match as we watched.
There were three matches to be seen in Group B of the semifinals. The first up was USA vs Germany, which gave me a great opportunity to wave our US flag, hoop and holler and jump up and down along with my countrymen, seated in sections further than mine.
For the first quarter, Willie and I gathered information about the game to have some understanding how things worked. Water polo is 4 quarters and one halftime, a bit like basketball. Each quarter is 8 minutes long with a 2 minute change between quarters and a 10 minute halftime. The team (composed of 7 players) that has possession of the ball has only 30 seconds to score or they lose the ball to the other team. Advancing the ball is done by one-handed throws or “dribbling” the ball between arm strokes to the other end.
There are likewise fouls that can take place during a game.
Common fouls include:
* touching the ball with two hands (by a player other than the goalie)
* taking the ball under water when tackled
* failing to shoot at the goal within 30 seconds of gaining possession
* failure to advance the ball (also called stalling)
More serious fouls are against individual players. These are called Excursion fouls and result in different penalties. Willie and I never did quite figure out all the penalties that were involved but there were a lot of Excursions during all matches. I’m guessing there are lot of different ways to get them.
Amazing to watch for both of us was the skill of the players.
USA and Germany were very adept at setting up the ball in front of the goal, then smashing the ball into the net with one swift, powerful throw of the ball. Strong treading skills are needed to raise the body upward out of the water for catching the ball and passing. Long arms were definitely a requirement in this sport. Without them, there was no way to outdo the other team.
Most likely, this is why watching match 3 (China vs Croatia) was so agonizing for the excited Chinese crowd that packed the stands. The Chinese water polo team had adequate swimming skills, but when it came to strategy and body length, they just didn’t have what it takes. The well-developed, tall Croatian athletes scored again and again while the frustrated Chinese players did their best to please those of us watching. The final result was dismal (China 4, Croatia 16) with disheartened Chinese fans leaving the stands before the last few minutes were up.
But for America, it was a very close game with the ball moving fast, the swimmers going all out, and the USA and German fans screaming their support yet holding their breath.
With the score USA 8, Germany 7, the clock was coming down to the last minute. Germany scored! The Germans went wild, but the referees were conferring. Two agonizingly long minutes later, the point was recalled due to a serious foul.
“Cheat! Cheat!” one German fan in my row angrily shouted out, shaking his fists in disgust.
But the Americans were ecstatic. We had the ball. The 30 seconds went down. We’d won the quarterfinals for Group B! Still in the running for a gold medal.
The semifinals have yet to be decided for men’s water polo but at present, all eyes are on our USA women’s water polo team. They are now down to the final game, which will give them the gold or the silver while playing against the Netherlands.
That’ll be the game to watch here in China on Thursday at 6:20 p.m.
Our American men, on the other hand, have their semifinals on Friday. If they win, they’ll go on to the gold medal tournament on Sunday afternoon, right before the extravagant closing ceremonies are to take place.
What excitement that would be to see two exhilarating events in one day: the USA men’s water polo match to claim the gold and, later on, the final show of a marvelous 2008 Olympic Games.
That’ll give us all something to really look forward to.
Before closing, just a note to say I’m back in Chengdu. There are a few more things to share about the Olympics which I’ll be doing tomorrow and then that about closes my trip to Beijing. After that, I’ll be hunkering down with the packing.
I plan to move back to Luzhou, 3 ½ hours south of Chengdu, next Wednesday before classes at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College start up on Sept. 1. There are numerous professional moving companies in the city. I’ve chosen one of the more famous ones and will be contacting them tomorrow for information. There will have to be a visit to my apartment to see how many things I have in order for them to determine how bit the truck will be. With gas prices as they are, I’m guessing the $150 I paid last year for the move is going to be significantly higher this time around to move back.
We’ll see what the movers have to say.
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you “Ping An” once again for your day.