Learn An Olympic Sport: Water Polo


The Olympics are about to start, and admit it, you don’t know the first thing about any of these sports.

You probably know the USA Olympic basketball team, and probably a gymnast or two, but the rest of the sports — it’s fine if you’re drawing a blank.

We’re here to help.

The Olympics is the greatest festival — perhaps Carnival is the better term here — of sport the world has to offer, and there are a lot of sports you’ve never watched that will be beamed directly to your television sets and smartphones this August.

Now’s the time to fall in love with a new sport, and we’re here to help introduce you to a few new games:

Water Polo

When can I watch?

Aug. 5 to 21

Why should I watch?

Did the introduction to handball get you interested in the sport? Well, water polo is essentially handball in water. One of the toughest sports to play in the world, it features arguably — don’t @ me — the best athletes at the games. It has plenty of scoring, but not so much as to diminish the value of a goal, and frankly, they beat the crap out of each other while treading water for an hour. You’d drown within minutes playing this game — no joke.

Do you have a video? A video might help:

Can you explain the rules in a minute?

Seven players in the pool per team: one goalie, one forward, two forward wings, two defensive wings, and a central defender. You have to keep the ball above water, and you can pretty much do whatever you want under the surface at all times. It’s really hard to draw a foul called when the ball is in your hands. There are four eight-minute quarters and most goals wins. There are 20-second power plays (called man-ups) for egregious fouls or for impeding breakaways — players are ejected after three major penalties. There are two lines on each side of the pool — a red two-meter line, which is more or less the offside line (an attacker can’t go in unless they have the ball or the ball is already in the zone) and a five-meter yellow line which is more-or-less a penalty box in soccer. A foul inside the yellow line (it’ll look green) results in a five-meter free throw to the goal, which are pretty awesome.

Are Americans any good at this?

Yep! Both the men and women’s national teams have won gold medals in this event, and both are among the favorites to win gold in Rio.

Who are the favorites?

The Serbians are the favorites on the men’s side, but a young USA team, Montenegro, defending gold medalists Croatia, and Italy aren’t far behind the world champions.

The US women are the favorites to win, having claimed a world championship in June and with only two losses to their name this year. Those two losses came to Australia, who have to be viewed as the top threat to the USA’s chances of winning back-to-back gold. The US women’s team is led by defender Maggie Steffens and goalie Ashleigh Johnson.