The U.S. men's water polo team is filled with veteran players who have experience at winning. The team is ready for its trip to China and the Olympic tournament in August. VOA's Jim Stevenson has this profile of Merrill Moses, the goalkeeper who will anchor the American effort in the pool.
Merrill Moses has always enjoyed athletic competition. But he had no idea that his passion for winning would lead him to the senior U.S. men's water polo team.
"I was an average [American style] football player and kind of fell in love with this sport that throws the ball around in the pool. Little did I know that I would be standing here talking to the Voice of America, representing our country as the USA goalkeeper for the Olympic team," he said.
The Beijing Games will be the first Olympic appearance for Moses, who was cut from the U.S. men's national team prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics. Moses had been the goalkeeper for the 1997 Pepperdine University national championship team. His coach, Terry Schroeder, became an assistant for the U.S. national team and convinced Moses to try again. Moses says he has been devoted to a very thorough training regimen.
"Six days a week, seven hours a day… Lots of swimming, lots of legwork… Holding 10 kilograms over your head while egg-beatering [kicking your legs] and trying to get up high out of the water so you have leg strength. For the goalkeeper such as myself, [you have to get used to] holding 10 kilos over your head for long periods of time to be able to stay out of the water, because you have to use your hands to block the ball. A lot of people think because we get so high out of the water that we can touch the bottom. But there is no bottom. It is 12 feet [four meters] deep," he explained.
Although top water polo contenders like Croatia, Serbia and Hungary will be in the Beijing pool, Moses says the U.S. men, who finished seventh four years ago in Athens, are in excellent position to reach the Olympic medal podium.
"I definitely see our team in medal contention," he added. "We have about eight veterans returning who have been to the Olympics already. So this is a veteran team and we match up very well with our competition."
As a goalkeeper, Moses is the last line of defense against the opposing team making a score. And he knows he will need a nearly flawless performance in China.
"The games are about a one-goal difference," he noted. "So it matters which way the ball bounces. In all honesty, sometimes there is luck. There is really never a slaughter in the Olympics."
Spectators at the Olympics do not see all of the action in the choppy water. Moses says even the game referees will miss much of what is going on between the teams.
"What is going on under the water, it is basically anything goes that the referee does not see," he said. "So [you do] anything you can do to make your opponent lose his concentration for a second so you can get away. A lot of hitting, a lot of grabbing, a lot of pulling suits, a lot of suits get ripped. It is definitely not a friendly game when it comes to that."
Despite the tough physical play, Moses says the sport is in great shape when it comes to doping.
"It is a very clean sport to be honest," he said. "You have to be intelligent to play the game because it is so fast moving. So I think a lot of people do not want to go there. It [doping] is kind of disrespecting to the sport."
The U.S. men's water polo team has had a strong run up to the Beijing Games. In May, the USA Men's Senior National Team finished undefeated in the America's Cup tournament, finishing with a dominant 7-1 victory over Canada.