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Serbia: gold at last in water polo
The Serbian men water polo team claimed the last gold medal of the aquatic events in Rio after beating Croatia in a one-sided final. The bronze went to Italy. In diving, Europe was closed out from the medals in the men’s platform event for first time since 2004.
The men’s 10m event in diving had some shaky moments for the greatest stars already in the heats but the biggest shock came in the semifinals on Saturday morning when Thomas Daley crashed out. The Brit, bronze medallist four years ago, missed his entries in succession and after finishing atop in the heats, hit the bottom of the ranks and finished 18th.
With the European champion out of the contest, Frenchman Benjamin Auffret and Germany’s Martin Wolfram took over the flag in the final and they grabbed the 4th and the 5th place respectively. Auffret was some 18 points away from the bronze – the gold went to China, but it was Chen Aisen who took it and not the world champion Qiu Bo who, despite having a truly perfect dive, earning 10s from all seven judges, had two missed attempts and sank to the 6th place.
The climax of the men’s water polo tournament didn’t bring too much excitements. In fact, among the last day’s encounters, the final brought the largest winning margin as Serbia outpowered the Croats 11-7. Already leading 6-3 at halftime, the Serbs kept the game under firm control and it was never felt during the encounter that the title-holder Croatians had the slightest chance to stage an upset.
So Serbia made it at last: after three bronze and a silver medals in the previous four editions they finally captured the gold. That was the only title eluded them since they returned to scene in 1996 after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. They have never been so overwhelming as in the current Olympic cycle, they won the 2015 world title, both European Championships, in 2014 and in 2016, all four World League editions since 2013 and the World Cup in 2014.
Though they had a really embarrassing start here in Rio, even their elimination was at stake in the 4th round against Australia and that game stood 7-7 with 5:08 minutes to go, but then they scored three goals in a row and once they overcame their demons, they were ready to conquer again. In the knockout phase they were as devastating as ever and managed to add the last missing piece of the big picture.
The Italian players celebrated their bronze medal as wildly as if they had clinched gold. They managed to defeat Montenegro for the third place with a convincing performance – poor Montenegrins, they left the Olympic pool empty handed on the third straight occasion, finishing 4th just as in 2008 and 2012. Hungary beat Greece for the 5th place, the Magyars were the only side in the tournament remaining undefeated in regular time (four wins, four draws, lost in the shootout in the quarters to MNE), but they had to settle for the 5th place, the same they had in 2012.