Canadian men's water polo team hopes youth is served
Somewhere in his parents’ basement in tiny Drinkwater, Sask., lies a souvenir t-shirt Robin Randall picked up at the last Olympic water polo qualifying tournament held in Canada some 22 years ago.
Randall was 12 at the time, already hooked on the sport, and watching some games in Calgary may well have cemented his future as goalkeeper on Canada’s national team.
“It was one of the things that probably inspired me to take it as far as I have,” said Randall.
Randall and his teammates will soon find out if they’re going to be able to take it as far as the 2012 London Olympics when Canadian hosts the qualifying tournament again, this time in Edmonton from April 1-8.
“It’s a really special opportunity because there hasn’t been an Olympic qualifier since 1992 when it was in Calgary,” said Randall. “I remember that because I was 12. There’s a lot of guys on the team who wouldn’t remember that because they weren’t born yet.”
That’s the thing about this Canadian squad. They’re a young group, average age only 22. But head coach Dragan Jovanovic has been aggressive in getting them battle ready with numerous invitational tournaments and other opportunities.
The team finished a disappointing 11th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after being a surprise qualifier, their first appearance after 24 years, and Jovanovic believes they’re capable of much more.
The only wildcard for him is the home crowd – these guys aren’t used to playing in front of one.
“For some teams, that’s an advantage,” said Jovanovic. “For this team, I’m guessing we’ll see if it’s an advantage or disadvantage on April 6.”
That’s the date of the quarterfinals. There’s two pools of six teams in the tournament and Canada is happy with their draw and confident they can advance out of their pool as one of the top four teams, maybe even finish first. The teams then cross over for the quarterfinals, with first in one pool playing fourth in the other and so on. A win in the quarterfinal guarantees an Olympic berth.
“I wouldn’t trust my Olympic hopes on the shoulders on anyone else in this world but the 12 other guys on my team, myself and the coaching staff, of course,” said Randall.
The team includes rising star Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, only 20 and touted to have the potential to be a Wayne Gretzky of water polo.
“There’s no one I’ve seen that’s been able to check him and effectively shut him down completely for the whole game,” said Randall.
In fact, Randall finds himself very wistful at times looking around at all the young talent on the team.
“Having had the perspective of being around for a few generations, it’s really awesome to see the potential,” he said. “In a way, sometimes I get a little sad. It’s kind of bittersweet because I know as much as I love the sport, you can’t play forever. You can’t play the kids games forever.
“At some point I’ll have to step down or be asked to leave – hopefully it’s not that – but at some point I’ll move on for sure and I don’t want to do it with all this young, special talent coming up the pipe. It gets me a little emotional sometimes.”
Hopefully, Randall gets to experience some of those emotions in London.
(Photo of Robin Randall by Todd Korol/Reuters)