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Azevedo, U.S. men's water polo team begin Olympic journey at CdM
The U.S. men’s water polo team will feature four-time Olympian Tony Azevedo this week as it begins a quest to qualify for the 2016 Olympics by playing host to the FINA Intercontinental Tournament at Corona del Mar High.
The Americans need to finish in the top-four at the eight-nation tournament to advance to June’s World League Super Final in Italy, which offers an initial opportunity to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Team USA would need to win the Super Final to qualify for Brazil or move on its second and perhaps best chance to qualify for the Olympics: win the Pan American Games in Toronto in July.
“Right now, the goal is to qualify for that fifth Olympics … and hopefully go to it,” Azevedo said in a recent phone interview. “The first thing on my mind is the fifth Pan American gold medal."
Team USA opens the Intercontinental on Monday at 8:30 p.m. against Canada, likely its toughest competition for the Pan American Games.
The Americans, coming off a training camp in Colorado Springs, are experiencing a youth movement under Coach Dejan Udovicic. Azevedo (Long Beach Wilson), Jesse Smith and John Mann (Corona del Mar) are the only former Olympians on the roster the Intercontinental.
Once the teen-age star of the U.S. team, Azevedo, 33, is now the elder statesman. Other players to watch this week include 6-foot-9 goalie McQuin Baron (Mater Dei), Josh Samuels (Villa Park), Alex Bowen, Ben Hallock (Harvard-Westlake), Bret Bonanni (Mater Dei) and Luca Cupido (Newport Harbor).
“Young guys but great talent,” Azevedo said. “The future of the United States is super-strong with these guys.”
The Intercontinental also includes Japan, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Australia and China. The final is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Americans play Tuesday and Wednesday night at 8 against Japan and Argentina, respectively.