The United States won its first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in women’s water polo on Thursday, making it to the top of the podium after an 8-5 victory over Spain.
Maggie Steffens finished off a remarkable Olympic tournament with a five-goal performance to lead the U.S., which had medaled in the previous three Olympics but had never attained Gold before today. Steffens totaled 10 goals in the three medal-round matches.
For Steffens, who was in the stands with her family to watch her sister, Jessica, lose the 2008 final, it was particularly sweet this year to give Villa and Petri a win to end their careers.
“I’ve looked up to Brenda and Peti, and I was at the 2008 Games and I felt that passion of the loss,” Maggie told reporters. “I wanted this for Brenda and Peti — to be able to retire and go out with the happiness of having gold, and for the ’08 girls, to fill that void, to get the gold medal.”
Santa Barbara’s Kami Craig is a starting player on the American team, earning the Gold Medal to go with the silver she won in Beijing. Craig, 25, who played at Santa Barbara High before an NCAA career at USC, scored once in the semifinals of the medal round.
Her highest scoring output came during group play when she scored four times in a 9-9 draw with Spain.
In the Gold Medal match, Spain initially gained a 2-1 advantage on two goals from Jennifer Pareja. The second goal came with 6:44 remaining in the second quarter.
Heather Petri tied the game for the Americans just 22 seconds later. It would be the first of seven straight goals for Team USA, a stretch that reached into the fourth quarter.
“I am speechless, it still hasn’t sunk in,” said Brenda Villa. “We played great defense today and that is what won us the medal. There are no words to explain how I’m feeling, but to go through the last four years with the players who were in Beijing and the new players here, like Maggie (Steffens), it means the world to me, I can’t describe it. It’s the end of a journey and I got my fairytale ending.”
Spain would end up out-shooting the Americans 28-17 while also holding the advantage in time of possession to no avail.