The 13-man squad rubber-stamped by the Australian Olympic Committee today know that little separates the top 10 teams in the world and if they play to their ability anything is possible.
Since finishing 10th at the World Championships last March the team has shown solid improvement resulting in bronze medals at the 2007 and 2008 World Leagues.
“We’ve had good results and the most pleasing thing is the consistent performances against the higher ranked teams. We’re going in ranked 10 in the world and basically the expectation is for us to not only be competitive but we know that we can mix it with the best teams,” head coach John Fox said.
Fox who was elevated from assistant to head coach after the 2007 World Championships is in Spain with assistant coach Mark Hubbard filming and analysing their Olympic opposition.
“Being at the European Championships now is very encouraging. The top four teams here are teams that we have beaten in the past 12 months.
So where has the improvement come from in the past 12 months?
“The personnel haven’t changed a lot since Melbourne (World Championships). The difference is there’s a greater sense of team commitment and unity and hopefully belief. Certainly the work ethic and the culture within the team has shifted dramatically.”
Over half the team play or have played professionally in Europe which is a big advantage tactically and to earn respect from other teams. There is also plenty of Olympic experience in the team to guide the six athletes making their debut.
Thomas Whalan, who will captain the team, heads to his third Olympic Games along with Timothy Neesham, Gavin Woods and Rafael Sterk.
“I’ve learnt a lot from the last two Olympics…especially how to deal with nerves and not to get too excited about what is happening at the Olympics outside of your competition,” Whalan said.
“It can be very daunting to go to the Olympics for the first time and all of the large crowds and TV cameras and outside distractions that you’re not used to. I’ll use my experience to be a lot more relaxed in Beijing and hopefully be successful.”
As with all teams, Fox has his key players that need to fire.
“It’s important that Thomas as the captain shows the way and Gavin Woods is one of the better centre forwards in the world. Our attacking focus basically centres around him. Pietro Figlioli has the fastest shot in the world and is one of the fastest swimmers in world water polo – we really need him to play to his potential.”
Woods at 30 is the oldest player on the team and Richard Campbell at 20 is the youngest. Woods’ father David is a dual Olympian and his sister Taryn won gold for Australia in Sydney. Neesham’s father David was a three-timke Olympian. Figlioli’s dad was a Brazilian swimming legend and Rhys Howden’s father captained Great Britain.
Jamie Beadsworth makes his Olympic debut as does his sister Gemma who is a centre forward for the Australian women’s team.
Australia are drawn in Group A for the Games with Spain, Hungary, Montenegro, Greece and Canada.
Their first three games against Greece, Spain and Canada will set them up for the tournament. Canada is a must win and over the past 12 months nothing has separated Australia from Greece or Spain. The toughest task in the prelims will be against reigning Olympic champions Hungary.
2008 Australian Olympic Men’s Water Polo Section
Trent Franklin – vice captain ******** Sydney Uni
Samuel McGregor ********* Sydney Uni
Robert Maitland ******** Sydney Uni
Thomas Whalan – captain ****** Sydney Uni