The 2012 London Olympics will take place this summer from July 27-Aug. 12. They will happen in a city that has been an enormous part of the history of water polo. The first set of water polo rules were developed by the London Swimming Club, the city's Crystal Palace Plunge was the site of the first organized match using these rules, and London features the first Olympic facility created specifically for water polo (albeit temporary, much of the venue is recyclable).
Water polo is a physically demanding, yet graceful sport. Early matches were basically rugby played in water, as teams would battle in lakes and rivers with little passing, the main objective being to bulldoze through the opposing line while carrying the ball (which was made from the stomach of a pig). Today's international game features crisp passing, skilled dribbling, highly precise shooters, yet retains the physical aspect that marked the sport's beginnings. As the event has grown over the last 150 or so years, so has the terminology.
Here are 10 terms to know about water polo before the start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad:
1. Eggbeater - The alternating leg kick that players use to tread water and to elevate in order to shoot or pass. Players must swim continuously without touching the sides or bottom of the pool, resulting in up to three miles of swimming during a match. This stroke is also used by synchronized swimmers.
2. Wet or dry - Usually used in conjunction with "pass" or "shot," the term refers to whether the ball touches the water or not as or after it leaves the thrower's hand. For example, a dry pass is one that never touches the water between the hand of the passer and the player that receives the ball.
3. Ball under - A foul that is called as a result of a player taking or holding the ball underwater, usually when he is tackled. FINA rules state that the intent of the player to take the ball under is not relevant, so if it is held under because of the force of the tackling player, possession will change over to the defensive team.
4. Exclusion foul - A foul that is more serious than an ordinary foul (which generally results in a free throw for the fouled team); in addition to a free throw for the team that was fouled, the offending player must leave the playing area until he is allowed back in by the penalty time elapsing, a goal is scored by the man-up team, or a possession change. Usually the time is 20 seconds, but may be 4 minutes for very serious violations.
5. Swim-off - The teams race to the center of the pool from each end in order to reach the ball. The race commences from the goal line of each team, and is used at the start of each period.
6. Dribble - The main method used (in addition to passing) to move the ball around in the pool. Simply means to swim with the ball, but must be accomplished with only one hand on the ball at any time (only goaltenders may touch the ball with two hands).
7. Man-up/ man-down play - Created as a result of an exclusion foul; the team missing a player is said to be "man-down" and the team with the advantage is labeled "man-up."
8. Center forward or hole-set (also wings, drivers, and a point man) - These are the positions in water polo, with the center forward usually setting up in front of the goal and marking the opposing center on defense. Though the positions have names, players will move around freely during matches to try to create advantages.
9. Re-entry areas - These areas are marked in red and are at either end of the pool in front of the team benches. Substitutes and excluded players must enter and exit through this area during live play.
10. Pulu - This Indian word is pronounced "polo" in English and means ball. This is the only connection that water polo has to the sport played on horseback.
The author has been involved with sports in one form or other his entire life. The first Olympic Games that he really watched was 1984 in Los Angeles, and has looked forward to the tradition and top-level competition each Olympics since.
Other content by this contributor:
- Sports & Recreation
- 2012 London Olympics
- water polo