In 2008, Tony Azevedo led the U.S. men’s water polo team to its first Olympic medal in 20 years. Now, Stanford’s all-time leading scorer is relinquishing his six-figure professional salary in a quest to capture the country’s first gold medal since 1904.
Last week, coach Terry Schroeder announced the 13 members of this year’s Olympic team and it included Azevedo, 30, who is making his fourth trip to the Summer Games, second as team captain. Nine other players from the 2008 silver-medal team are also returning, hardly a surprise considering they’ve been training together in Southern California since January.
“Our goal is to win the gold medal — nothing less,” Azevedo said.
Azevedo, whose nickname is “The Savior,” has been called the Michael Jordan of water polo. At Stanford, he won the Peter J. Cutino Award — water polo’s version of the Heisman — all four years, and since then, he’s played professionally in Italy, Serbia, Montenegro and Brazil. At 18, Azevedo made his Olympic debut in Sydney, the team finished sixth. In Athens, the Americans slid to seventh; but in 2008, they shocked the international water polo community with a string of upset wins, grabbing the silver despite having their funding eliminated. Azevedo said team play was the key to the success in Beijing, something that got away from them in a 14-10 loss to Hungary in the gold-medal game.
“We were all individuals and that’s not what got us there,” he said.
Last winter, Azevedo and Schroeder got together and discussed what needed to be done for the team to take the next step and bring home a gold in London this summer. They decided the best way to regain that team chemistry would be to have everyone forgo their professional seasons (and salaries) and train together for seven months leading into the games.
“This team has sacrificed more than any group in the history of United States water polo,” Azevedo said.
In January, the returning players from the 2008 team congregated in Thousand Oaks and started training in the pool for four to five hours every morning and another three at night.
“When we get time off, we all go eat together — it’s definitely become a family,” Azevedo said, adding: “This is the closest I’ve ever been with a team.”
Gold or no gold, Azevedo plans to rejoin the team in Brazil, his father’s homeland, for a fifth Olympics in 2016.
“I was born in Brazil, I’d love to do it there,” he said.