Photo courtesy of tonyazevedo.com.
Tony Azevedo is the first five-time U.S. Olympic water polo player, silver medalist, team captain of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Team and Wilson Classical High School alumnus. And this year, in what could possibly be Azevedo’s last Olympics, he’s hungry for gold.
Not hungry. Ravenous.
“I still haven't won a gold medal and that's my ultimate goal that I'm working towards,” he told the Post yesterday.
The water polo legend has been covered extensively by publications near and far, chronicling the prodigious talent who was born in Brazil but grew up playing polo in the pools of Long Beach, including the renowned Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, before it was torn down for earthquake retrofitting in December 2014.
It’s his ties to Brazil, and the possibility of this Olympics being his last, that have made a potent impression on him as he hunkers down in Rio for the 2016 Olympic games.
“It's a very emotional return for me,” said Azevedo. “I have always had a special love and connection with Brazil, and I have played professionally for SESI for the last three years in São Paulo, allowing me to reconnect with old friends and family even more. This means that these games will be the most special for me— to be able to play in front of Brazilian family, in my birthplace, but representing the USA really feels like coming full circle.”
Azevedo’s father Ricardo Azevedo (the son of a Brazilian World Cup soccer player), helped propel the Azevedo family into a water polo dynasty. It’s that sense of responsibility and leadership that Azevedo says fuels his own leadership style, day-by-day, where he said his job is to lead by example.
Additional photos courtesy of Sara Azevedo.
“My father taught me that the most important thing is to never think you know everything,” said Azevedo. “I always believe that I can learn something new every day and I am open to criticism and growth. I think when my teammates see how hard I work and how bad I want success, they are inspired to follow my path.”
At 34 years of age, he’s been a member of each U.S. men's Olympic water polo team since 2000, including in 2008 when the team earned a silver medal. Azevedo was also the leading scorer for the US in both 2004 and 2008.
After a notable career at Wilson (class of 2001), Azevedo excelled at Stanford University. While working toward his degree in International Relations, Azevedo won the Peter J. Cutino Award—essentially water polo’s Heisman Trophy.
After so many years in the sport, Azevedo says that ever-elusive gold medal, and community around him make him thirsty for more success in his water polo career.
“[...] I have had a great relationship with all of the teams I have been on that have slowly morphed over the last 18 years as people come and go, and our rapport and their support is key to my longevity,” said Azevedo. “Of course having the unconditional support of my wife and young son is also a huge part of what keeps me motivated.”
That motivation fuels the strenuous days of training, which involve waking up at 5:30AM for a 6:30AM gym workout, which lasts for about an hour and a half. That workout is followed by two hours in the pool, focusing on leg strength, reviewing tactics and scrimmaging with 12-pound weight belts. A few hours of rest follow, before the team hops back into the pool for three more hours of polo training. The daily vigor has maintained a competitive edge on his 6 foot 1 inch, 206-pound frame.
Azevedo said his approach to training and water sports in general has been largely informed by growing up in Long Beach, which he called “an aquatic sports mecca.”
“I love the diversity and down-to-earth attitude of the residents, and growing up I was constantly surrounded by sport—the outdoor lifestyle just leads to constantly being active—swimming, biking and playing different sports,” said Azevedo. “When I retire, I hope to help build an even greater water polo community in Long Beach in connection with other sports and to grow the city's profile on a national and global level.”
While Azevedo’s wife Sara, son Cruz and sister Cassie won’t make the games due to Zika concerns, Azevedo said he’ll be surrounded by other members of his Brazilian family, as well as by his father, who will be at the Olympics as the Chinese Women’s team coach.
With the support of family and friends, Azevedo’s hoping to push for this year being one with a win. The US is currently ranked sixth in the world, according to FINA, the international governing body of aquatics, and finished second in the FINA World League Super Final in June. Azevedo will be gunning hardcore to push his home team to the top spot.
“[My goal is] to win gold,” he said. “Period.”