Day 13 of the 2012 Olympic Games began with yet another chance for the U.S. women's water polo team to assert themselves as the premier team in the world, and it ended in glory, as the Americans defeated underdogs Spain for the gold medal, 8-5.
Even though this is Spain's first time appearing in the event, it was no pushover, as the Spaniards tied the Americans, 9-9, in the group stage. Things were a bit more lopsided in Thursday's final, although the final score is a poor indication of how dominant the U.S. was in this gold-medal match.
American Maggie Steffens stood out early with three goals in the first half, and the 19-year-old was a force throughout the final. Her penalty shot early on in the third period was the perennial dagger, and she played a perfect game—literally—with five goals on five shots.
Spain struck first in a low-scoring first period and used suffocating defense and energy to get out to an early lead. The Americans seemed cautious at the onset and looked bothered by a determined Spanish squad, but got on the scoreboard with under a minute left in the opening frame to tie it, 1-1.
The second period was all United States. The Americans put on a flurry with four quick goals and rid themselves of their slow start to lead, 5-2, at the half—a lead that they would never come close to relinquishing.
As sharp as Spain was defensively at the start, the U.S. was even better throughout, as it shut down the opposing side by not allowing a single goal in the third period.
Spain's Jennifer Pareja was a handful for the U.S. early, as her goals from long range helped energize the young Spaniards. But it wasn't until the fourth and final period that she received some help in the scoring column from her teammates.
For the Americans, it was a chance to overcome a disappointing silver medal in the 2008 Games in Beijing and capture their first gold medal since the sport's addition to the Olympics. They took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed America's 36th gold medal of the London Games in dominating fashion.
This was just Spain's 10th overall medal at the 2012 London Games, and it's safe to say that it surprised the field with a silver medal in its first ever appearance in the event.
The gold-medal bout between two powerhouses got off to a delayed start after the match for bronze between Australia and Hungary went to two overtimes.
Australia won the bronze medal, 13-11, and joined the U.S. and Spain on the fourth ever women's water-polo podium at the Olympics.
After another stellar tournament, this sport should be around for a long, long time. And the international juggernaut that is the United States should find itself in the hunt for the gold yet again in 2016.
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