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Olympic water polo players

04 April 2012 swimart

Olympic water polo players

Olympic water polo players

FIRST AND LAST

(left to right) Mel Rippon and Nicola Zagame

Australians are known for their prowess in the water, particularly when it comes to water sports. At the recent 2012 Olympic Games in London we watched our women's water polo team - the Aussie Stingers - do us proud by bringing home a bronze medal.

We spoke to team members Nicola Zagame, who will remember the London games as her first, and Kate Gynther, who will look back fondly at the experience as her last, about the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Nicola Zagame

Twenty-two year old Nicola has played water polo from the age of 13, and was thrilled to be selected to compete in her first Olympic Games. She says the experience of working for four years towards those few crucial weeks was amazing.

"It was weird actually, because we've played all these teams before in international tournaments," she says. "So it kind of felt like just another tournament, only this time the stakes were higher."

For Nicola, who plays centre back and driver positions, winning the bronze medal was an early birthday present as she celebrated her 22nd birthday two days after. And while the competition in London was intense, because they had played against the opposing teams in the lead up to the games, it was easier to know what to expect.

(left to right) Nicola Zagame and Alicia McCormack

"The teams all have different styles of play," Nicola says. "Russia is really fast and focuses on the attack, whereas China and USA are stronger and bigger, so they use that to their advantage rather than speed."

Currently studying radiography at Sydney University, Nicola doesn't just have one passion. After finishing her course next year, she plans to pursue a career working with x-ray and MRI scanning equipment.

Nicola says she plans on taking a break for the rest of this year before heading back to the pool to start preparing for the Olympics in Rio in 2016. "As the games get closer, training sessions get closer together and more intense. Even the year before competing we train about 10 times a week!" she says.

Kate Gynther

While Nicola plans to try out to compete in Rio in 2016, the team's captain Kate is hanging up her cap after three consecutive Olympic Games.

"All three of my Olympic experiences were so different," says Kate. "Athens was amazing because it was my first, but then Beijing was the first Olympics where I won a medal. The London games were great because of that contented feeling knowing that it was my last. I was happy with my decision to retire."

In London, Kate celebrated receiving her second bronze medal. The team just missed out on an Olympic medal in her first games, placing fourth in Athens, but worked their way up to third place in the next games in Beijing.

Working as a police officer in South Brisbane, Kate juggled a full time job with full time training in the lead up to this year's games.

(left to right) Kate Gynther and Mel Rippon

"It was pretty intense with 12-13 sessions a week, each lasting between one and a half hours to three hours. We do gym sessions, straight swimming for a few kilometres for endurance and pool sessions on tactics and ball skills."

Kate will now retire from competitive water polo to focus on her job. When she was accepted into the Police Academy in 2009, Kate jumped at the chance to complete her police training.

"I left school not sure what I wanted to do. But policing was something I always came back to. So I took a year off from water polo to get my training and do my first few months on the job," she says.

Having played water polo since the age of 10 (she is now 30) and at an international level since 2002, Kate's achievements in the pool will always be a period of her life she will look back upon fondly.

"After the disappointment of losing to the US in the semi-final, to win the bronze in the end was great," she says. "I don't have that inner-conflict of wondering whether I should go again. I've made the right choice."