In the world of women's water polo, the United States is one of the most successful nations in history. The Americans are the team that's reached the podium in every Olympics since the sport was included in 2000 at the Athens Games.
Think that's enough to satisfy them? Not even.
Kami Craig stood in front of me a conflicted 21-year-old in Beijing, wiping away tears of disappointment but also smiling in delight as her first Olympic medal hung from her neck. The top-ranked United States team had just lost a wild 9-8 title match against the Netherlands to fall short of a gold medal once again.
"It's definitely a hard one to lose," she told me in an interview for the Santa Barbara News-Press (link is behind a paywall). "But we fought until the end and I'm proud to wear a silver medal."
Almost no one on the team smiled on the podium. Team USA star Natalie Golda cried in the post-match press conference a few minutes later, knowing that she would retire before another golden opportunity in London.
The Americans head into British waters returning seven players from the Beijing roster. Two of those players, attackers Brenda Villa and Heather Petri, will be playing in their fourth Olympics. Their pool consists of Hungary, China and Spain.
The U.S. beat Hungary in four consecutive tune-up matches held throughout California over the past week, and took down fourth-ranked China 10-6 in the FINA Super Finals last month. Second-ranked Australia split with the Chinese in the Asia/Oceania qualifying tournament.
The U.S. won gold at the Pan-American Games last year, thanks in large part to 28 saves from star goalie Betsey Armstrong. While the Americans were sixth at the World Championships in 2011, they won the event in 2009 and took the FINA World Cup in 2010. Most impressively, they have won four consecutive World League championships.
They've also figured out how to win in various ways after the four unique matches against Hungary, in which the team had to come from behind as well as maintain leads and win in close situations.
“It’s good to play a series of four games and good to be reminded of how quickly things can change,” Armstrong said afterwards. “You have to remember to play your own game.”
If they play their game in London, look for them to finally reach the top of the Olympic podium.