The United States became the first women's water polo team to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal on Friday after they decimated Italy 12-5 to retain their title at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh testified to the impact United States goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson had on the final, despite the scoreline suggesting it was the Americans' attack that won the game:
Earlier, Russia clinched a bronze medal in women's water polo for the second time in their history on Friday, where they defeated Hungary on penalties to finish in third after a hard-fought podium decider.
The Russians took home the bronze in Sydney 16 years ago and gave their Friday opponents a challenge they couldn't quell en route to sealing their place on the Rio podium.
Friday's defeat is a major blow for Hungary, who have now finished fourth in the last three consecutive Olympics and had the game in their hands before throwing a two-goal cushion to go to extra time.
|Rio 2016 Olympics: Women's Water Polo Medal Finals|
|United States (Gold)||12-5||Italy (Silver)|
|Russia (Bronze)||12-12 (7-6 on Pens)||Hungary|
Team U.S.A. were eager to strut their stuff from the off on Friday, and a 4-1 victory in the first quarter laid the foundation for a convincing win, although goalkeeper Johnson was called to arms on multiple occasions.
After that scoreline, one might have been tempted to think the Americans had their gold in the bag, but Italy hit back to take the second quarter 2-1 and cut the deficit down to just two goals at the break:
United States coach Adam Krikorian was clearly frustrated at poolside after seeing his side slip in tempo, and the team responded with five goals in the third quarter to head into the last segment as 10-4 leaders.
Italy's major problem was in attack, though, and no matter the amount of possession they boasted, breaking down the United States defence proved nigh impossible as they slumped to an 12-5 loss, the greatest gulf ever seen in an Olympic women's water polo final.
Although it was already assured coming into Friday's encounter, the United States have also managed an astonishing fifth consecutive podium placement in women's water polo at Rio 2016.
Questions now will turn to whether or not the team is capable of completing its hat-trick at Tokyo 2020, having established their dominion over the rest of the field in Brazil.
Each of the last two Olympic bronze-medal finals—at Beijing 2008 and London 2012—have been forced to extra time after draws in normal play, and Friday continued that trend with a penalty-shootout decider.
It was a late spurt from the Russians that finally doomed Hungary to once again finish just shy of the podium, and Balazs Furjes, chairman of Hungary's 2024 Olympics bid, was humble in defeat:
There was nothing to separate the two teams at half-time, drawing the opening quarter 3-3 before Russia took a one-goal lead at the interval, but the Hungarians hit back hard to win the third quarter 3-1.
Hungary's dream of a maiden Olympic medal in women's water polo looked to have been realised after a surge in energy saw coach Attila Biro's side not only take a lead for the first time in the match, but establish a two-goal cushion.
It looked as though the victory might be theirs at 11-9, but a courageous Russian fight back saw them make it 11 goals apiece before Hungary again opened the slimmest of leads with seconds remaining.
Hungary had the win in their sights, but Russia's pressure told when Anastasia Simanovich scored her first goal of the match with just one second remaining in normal time to draw 12-12 and force penalties.
There was nothing to divide the two teams after six penalties apiece, forcing the shootout to sudden death, where Russia goalkeeper Anna Karnaukh saved Hanna Kisteleki's attempt to win her nation a bronze medal.
Hungary will undoubtedly have a difficult time bouncing back from the result after finishing fourth in the Olympics for the third Games in a row, while Russia revel in their first bronze in 16 years.