© Gertjan Kooij / Beeldboot

The most difficult tournament I played in my life

The Olympic Qualification Tournament will be played from April 3rd to 10th in Trieste, Italy. Twelve teams from all around the world will play for the last 4 places for Rio 2016. The tournament, as was in 2012, is played in 2 groups of 6 and the first 4 qualify for the quarterfinals. The winners are in the Olympics and those who lose are out. Everything is decided in one game after 5 games in 5 days. This year Hungary, Italy and Spain are clear favorites to walk away with 3 places, leaving the rest of the teams to fight for the last remaning spot. 

The Olympic Qualification Tournament held in Canada in 2012 was undoubtedly the most difficult tournament I've played in my life. I think all athletes dream of being in the Olympics and when your qualification is decided in a single tournament, it becomes a great emotional and psychological test. I remember that before the competition I was trying not to hear or pay attention to any advertising on TV about the Olympic Games in London, worried that this would cause me even more anxiety about the classification. In a water polo match where you have to swim, fight, shoot, pass, think... anything outside the game can impair concentration, and in a moment of maximum tension as in a tournament, you need to be 100% focused.

In 2012 I played with Spain, we qualified by winning the quarter-final over Macedonia 13-5, a good start which saved us a lot of suffering of a possible dramatic finish. An interesting story from this match is that right after the end I explained to one of the players from Macedonia the importance of the classification to the Spanish team. The financing program for us the next four years until Rio 2016 depended on this classification. And his answer was “well, it would have been important for us too, because if we had qualified, we would have received a lifetime pension in Macedonia.'' I think this story shows the great importance the Olympic qualification has in a life of water polo player.

This 2012 was not my first Olympic qualification. In Rio back in 2004 I played my first qualifier tournament as part of the Brazilian national team. We knew that our chances of qualifying were minimal; at that time (I was 17) we did not have an adequate preparation neither the level to compete with European teams. Therefore the pressure and hopes were not as high, and were very different from those lived in 2012. Even so I still remember the feeling of frustration to be left outside of the Olympics and to have to watch all the games on TV.

I wish all participants of the qualifications tournament all the best, and although it may seem so, not everything ends there. Romania lost the classification at home in 2008 to Canada in a last chance, last man-up, but then managed to get it in 2012. At home I also have such an example; my father, who is a former water polo player for Brazil national team, was qualified for Munich 1972. However, as there were no chance of winning a medal, the federation canceled the participation of the team a month before the games - can you imagine this? His redemption came with me and my brother participating together in Beijing 2008 with Spain.

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