Water Polo

Learn about this Summer Olympic sport

April 27, 2012

The Netherlands' Danielle de Bruijn shoots against USA in the gold medal women's water polo match at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Water polo started in the 19th century as a water version of rugby. In the early days, the sport was played in rivers and lakes. Players rode on floating barrels that looked like toy horses. They swung at the ball with mallet-like sticks. This made it similar to equestrian polo, hence its name. The sport became popular when the rules became formal. Twelve countries competed in the sport at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. It’s been in every Olympic Games since.

Rules of the Games

Water polo matches are divided in four periods of eight minutes each.  Teams of seven play in a pool with a goal at each end. Each team has 30 seconds to score before the ball is returned to the opposing team. A goal is scored when the entire ball crosses the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar. Other than the fist, any part of the body may be used to knock the ball into the goal. One point is awarded for each goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

Players are not allowed to touch the sides or the bottom of the pool at any time during play. This causes them to swim as much as three miles during a match!


Click here to read about weightlifting at the Olympic Games.

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