MARKHAM, Ontario -- The men’s water polo gold-medal game at the 2015 Pan American Games was extra special for U.S. captain Tony Azevedo as he faced his native Brazil, led by coach Ratko Rudic, who previously coached Azevedo and the U.S. men’s team. Azevedo’s connections to his opponent made the victory that much sweeter Wednesday night in Markham, Ontario.
The attacker was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1981 and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was only a month old. He spent most of his life in the U.S., has played professional water polo with several clubs across Europe and most recently landed with SESI Sao Paulo, where he plays with several Brazilian national team members.
Familiar with the habits of some of his SESI SP teammates, Azevedo made sure to educate his U.S. teammates on what to expect. And the lessons seemingly paid off as the U.S. defeated Brazil in a hard-fought, high-scoring, 11-9 victory.
“I play with four of these guys and the rest of them I play against, so I know every single one of them,” said Azevedo. “I spent about five hours telling all my teammates about how they shoot and what they do. In the end nothing mattered, all that mattered was heart.”
The win marked Azevedo’s fifth consecutive Pan American Games gold medal, dating back to 1999.
His dad, Ricardo Azevedo, played for Brazil’s national team from 1973-81 before moving to the U.S. to coach. He ushered his son Tony into the game, mentoring and guiding him every step of the way.
“He’d be very proud of his son,” said Azevedo of his win. “He always loves it when I win, especially when it is against Brazil.”
Regardless of his roots, he hopes to don the red, white and blue at his fifth Olympic Games in 2016.
The U.S. men qualified for Rio on Monday after winning their semifinal over Canada, by virtue of Brazil’s defeat of Argentina, since the host nation is already guaranteed a spot in the tournament.
Azevedo played on the team that brought home the first men’s water polo medal in 20 years for Team USA, earning silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
The U.S. had an impressive tournament, maintaining a spotless record after defeating Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador in the pool stage, and then earning an extra special victory over the hometown Canadian squad. With a blend of youth and veteran Olympians, and after only having trained together for two months leading up to the Pan Ams, the U.S. men’s team is poised for success in future Games.
“This is the first big game that we’ve had together as a team and the fact that we not only came back from a tough win against Canada to qualify for the Olympics, but then (we won) this one – I couldn’t be more happy,” said Azevedo.
“We’re going to be a team that nobody wants to play in the Olympics.”