Unsparing USA women engulf Spain to cap rare Olympic water polo threepeat

Ashleigh Johnson was terrific, Maddie Musselman dazzled once again and Maggie Steffens led a stellar defensive performance.

The US dynasty in women’s water polo is alive and well.

Johnson made 11 saves, Musselman scored three times and the US won their third consecutive gold medal on Saturday, routing Spain 14-5 in the final at the Tokyo Olympics.

Aria Fischer, Kaleigh Gilchrist and Alys Williams had two goals apiece as the US improved to 134-4 since they won gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. After falling 10-9 to Hungary in group play in their first loss at the Olympics since the 2008 final, the US ripped off four straight wins by a combined score of 63-26.

The US join the men’s teams from Britain (1908-1920) and Hungary (2000-2008) as the only countries to win at least three straight water polo titles at the Olympics. The US are the only team to medal in each of the six editions of the women’s tournament at the Games.

Maica Garcia had two goals for Spain, who have lost 13 in a row against the Us, including the finals of the 2017 and 2019 world championships. The silver medal matches the country’s best finish in the women’s competition.

Garcia, Anni Espar, Roser Tarrago, Laura Ester, Pili Pena and Marta Bach also played for Spain when they lost to the United States in the final at the 2012 Olympics, and they looked primed for revenge in Tokyo. The reigning European champions had won five of six, outlasting Hungary in the semi-finals.

Instead, Spain were pushed aside by the US once again.

Steffens and company saved their best for last like they so often do. The Americans were shaken by their loss to Hungary, but they regrouped with their depth and defense.

Six US players scored on the way to a 7-4 halftime lead. Spain didn’t get its first goal until there was 2:15 left in the first quarter.

When the US ripped off five straight goals in the third period, it was all over. Johnson took a seat on the bench for the final minutes, and the party was on.

Hungary earned the country’s first medal in women’s water polo, beating the Russian team 11-9 for bronze.

Vanda Valyi scored three times on three shots for Hungary, which finished fourth in each of the past three Games.

Captain Rita Kesthelyi had two goals. Her father, Tibor, played water polo for Hungary in the 1988 Olympics, and she said her mother was among the first women to play the sport in her country. Rita Kesthelyi fought back tears when asked about the significance of the bronze medal.

“I’m sure everyone is very, very proud of us and happy that we achieve this,” she said. “It’s a huge step in our history.”

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