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Water polo is a tough sport, but when it first began it was even tougher. Fighting between players was common, if not the norm. In 1897, New Yorker Harold Reeder formulated the first American rules for discipline, which were aimed at curbing the sport’s more violent tendencies.
In the early days, the players rode on floating barrels that resembled mock horses, and swung at the ball with mallet-like sticks. This made it similar to equestrian polo, hence its name. In the United States it was termed softball water polo due to the use of an unfilled bladder as a ball.
Water polo was developed in Europe and the United States as two differing sports. Ultimately, the faster, less dangerous European style predominated, and today this is the form of the game practised universally. It consists of seven-man teams playing four seven-minute periods.
Water polo made its Olympic debut at the Paris Games in 1900. It was not included in 1904 but would be present at each subsequent edition of the Olympic Games.
Since then, the Hungarians have been by far the greatest ambassadors of this discipline. Between 1928 and 1980, they won medals at every Games. Between 1932 and 1976, they even won six of the 10 gold medals available.
In 2000 in Sydney, Hungary make a remarkable comeback, winning its seventh gold medal in water polo. In the same year, women’s water polo made its first official appearance at the Olympic Games, 100 years after the debut of this discipline.