By defeating China and advancing to the quarterfinals on Sunday, the Canadians have assured themselves of a best ever finish at the global summit on the heels of a rare qualification to last summer’s Olympics in Beijing.
In other words, this country’s water polo men are underdogs no more.
But they are underfunded. If they hope to make it to the next level and become a constant contender they’ll need an infusion of cash from the Canadian Olympic Committee’s “Own the Podium” program.
The man who runs that program, two-time Olympic gold medal swimming champion Alex Baumann, should be expecting a phone call soon.
“We’ve had only five international matches since the Olympics,” shrugged head coach Dragan Jovanovich. “We’re not targeted by the program so it means we’ve got next to no money to travel.”
Operating out of the Olympic city of Calgary this men’s water polo team is well coached and doggedly determined.
The team has played through “The Group of Death” in Rome to advance to a knockout match against the reigning world bronze medalists from Spain.
Along the way Canada didn’t back down against the Olympic champs from Hungary in losing 15-6, they pounded South Africa 12-1, and in a thriller, knocked off highly touted Germany 5-4.
Against China the Canadians cruised to a 9-5 victory and clinched the historic best ever finish but the team climbed out of the water hungry to play against the Spaniards and make a name for themselves as giant killers.
They will be cast in the role of David against an aquatic Goliath but remain undaunted.
“So far I’d rate our performance as a B+ but there are still things that we can add to our game to make us better,” said captain Thomas Marks. “We know we can put together a good game plan against Spain, still it will be very tough to get through this. We’ll be focused and we’ll give it our best, I guarantee you that”
It’s all any fan of a Canadian team could possibly ask for.
Watching Marks walk away from the interview clad in his heavy, black, bathrobe with the maple leaf crest emblazoned on the front, he looked like a prize fighter who’d just gone the distance and survived.
Sort of like an aquatic version of George Chuvalo.
Here’s the lesson: When it comes to water polo, don’t count out Canada’s underwater dogs if there’s a chance to get their fair share of the funding feast.
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