The greatest American water polo player of all time turns 36 today.

Tony Azevedo is the most decorated player in the history of U.S. water polo.  Captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team since 2005, he has appeared in a record five consecutive Olympic Games between 2000 and 2016.

In 2015, Azevedo set a record with his eighth appearance at the FINA World Championship, where he is the leading goal scorer in the history of the event.

Azevedo led Team USA to five water polo gold medals at the Pan Am Games.  The first came in 1999, the most recent in 2015.

Dubbed “The Savior” due to his importance to water polo in America, Azevedo has competed in 11 FINA World Cup tournaments and has played for some of the top clubs in the world, including Italian, Croatian and Brazilian teams.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on this date in 1981, Anthony Lawrence Azevedo moved with his family to the U.S. when he was one month old.  Tony is part of a water polo family.

His father, Ricardo, played for the Brazilian national team and is considered one of the premier coaches in the world.

In 2004, he guided the U.S. men’s team at the Athens Olympics and directed the Chinese women in the 2016 Rio Games.

Tony’s sister, Cassandra, played professional water polo in Italy after starring at Long Beach State.

At four, Tony fell on a backyard fence, severing his trachea and esophagus.  His heart stopped beating for 90 seconds and doctors believed he was dead.

After undergoing emergency surgery, he drifted in and out of a coma for six months.  Experts told his parents Tony’s injuries would preclude him from ever playing sports.  Four years later, he was playing competitive water polo.

Azevedo attended Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, a public school located in Long Beach, California.  Only a mile-and-a-half from the Pacific Ocean, Wilson has produced over three dozen Olympians.

Azevedo enjoyed a stellar prep career.  Between 1996 and 1999, he led the Wilson Bruins to four state titles while being named CIF tournament MVP in each.

A four-time High School [and Academic] All-American, Azevedo was a three-time California prep Player of the Year.  With the ink on his diploma barely dry, the 17-year-old launched his international career, helping the U.S. men win gold at the 1999 Pan Am Games in Manitoba, Canada.

After accepting a scholarship to Stanford, Azevedo led the Cardinal to national championships in his freshman and sophomore seasons, earning tournament MVP honors in both.

He became the only player in history to win the prestigious Peter J. Cutino Award – the Heisman Trophy of water polo – four consecutive years.  In four seasons in Palo Alto, Azevedo scored 332 goals for Stanford, shattering the previous school record of 235.

He was named American Water Polo Coaches Association Player of the Year in 2004, and graduated the following spring with a degree in International Relations.

In 2015, as part of the Pacific-12 Conference’s 100th Anniversary celebration, Tony Azevedo was named Pac-12 Water Polo Athlete of the Century.  The following year, he was elected into the Stanford Sports Hall of Fame.

One of the smaller players in water polo, the 6’1”, 200-pound attacker possesses one of the most powerful shots in the game.

Azevedo got his first taste of Olympic water polo as the ball boy in the gold medal match between Spain and Croatia at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Four years later, he became the youngest player ever to make the U.S. men’s team and earned a trip to Sydney.

Azevedo had a storied international career.  He scored 60 Olympic goals.  At the London Games in 2012, Azevedo and teammate Ryan Bailey became the first American men to compete at four Olympics.

The right-handed attacker, who wears number eight on his headgear, topped all scorers at the 2003 Pan Am Games with 33 goals.

At the 2007 World Championship in Melbourne, he poured in 19 goals, the most in the tournament.  Azevedo led Team USA to its best-ever Olympic finish in 2008, earning a silver medal in Beijing.

With no professional water polo league in the U.S., Azevedo, whose personal credo is “the biggest barrier to success is fear of failure,” competed at the club level, helping the New York Athletic Club to six national titles.

In 2003, he was ranked seventh on Men’s Journal magazine’s list of “Best Male Athletes.

An avid foodie, Azevedo would be a chef if he couldn’t play water polo [he makes a superb grilled octopus].  He and his wife Sara [a fellow Stanford alum] make their home in Long Beach when stateside, and have a son and a daughter.

Cruz was born in Croatia in May 2013, when the family was living there while dad played for the Croatian national team.  Luna was born in October 2016, two months after the close of the Rio Olympic Games.

The Michael Jordan of water polo played his final game as a member of the U.S. men’s team June 11, 2017.

Facing Croatia at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center – his home during the most decorated career in collegiate water polo history – he fired one in nearside to give the Americans a 2-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Following a halftime ceremony in which he was bestowed with several commemorative items, Azevedo addressed the crowd, changed into his jeans and took in the final 16 minutes on the pool deck with family and friends.

Mr. Azevedo, who played for 27 years, will remain deeply involved with the sport, running the Aquatic Games in Long Beach and trying to grow water polo in the United States.

Happy Birthday to America’s water polo G.O.A.T.

 


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