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Ten year reunion for water polo winners

10 September 2010

The women’s water polo gold medal game was one of the most nail-biting and frantic events of the Sydney Olympic Games.

A blistering shot through three defenders from Australian Yvette Higgins, with only 1.3 seconds remaining, snatched the historic win from the Americans 4-3.

Ten years on, the team will gather in Sydney this weekend for the first time since 2000, to reminisce over a few drinks and remember the most amazing few weeks of their lives.

Several players will also be a part of all of the celebration activities on Wednesday.

A star for the team in 2000 and a key member in the sport’s fight for female inclusion at the Games was Sydney player Deborah Watson.

“It was just so amazing especially the crowd,” Watson recalled of the final at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre on 23 September 2000.

“They were yelling at the fact that they thought we’d scored. And then they were really disappointed when we hadn’t scored. And then we did score and the US coach was going berserk and Laurie Lawrence was going berserk!

“Everything really exploded at once, it was brilliant.”

Watson can remember the last few minutes of the tough encounter vividly and especially jumping in the pool to celebrate after the siren in total disbelief.

The Sydney Olympics were the fairytale end to Watson’s phenomenal career. She had retired in 1996 after the lobbying to get women’s water polo included in the Games appeared to have again failed.

But in 1997 when it was added to the program she came out of retirement and forced her way back into the Australian Team. At 34 she fulfilled her dream of Olympic gold.

Even before her Olympic gold she was recognised as Australia’s greatest female player. Watson was Australian captain from 1991 to 1996, was voted best player in the world in 1993, and led Australia to a string of world championship and World Cup victories. She won the 1984 World Cup, the 1986 world championship, the 1995 World Cup and then the 2000 Olympic title.

Watson has plenty of praise for 2000 Head Coach Istvan Gorgenyi for his meticulous planning and emphasis on team dynamics.

“We had a great unit and through him I don’t think we could have been better prepared for the tournament. The whole coaching squad were tremendous but Gorgenyi was brilliant to have our skills working up to the last second after playing seven games in eight days.”

After the medal ceremony in 2000, Watson went straight to Roy & HG with Liz Weekes and then joined hundreds of family, friends and supporters at the Gladesville Hotel for a very memorable celebration.

“Honestly there was so many people you couldn’t actually get to the bar it was an amazing night. The girls all left at different times but somehow we all made our Team meeting at 10 the next morning which was phenomenal,” Watson laughed.

“We all went to the beach volleyball together and on the 28th of September we had a luncheon together which was beautiful but that was the last time the Team was all together.

“So it feels like we were only together a few times after the final hooter sounded which is a real shame. But this reunion with 12 of the 13 girls will be really special.”

The whole team can raise a glass to themselves for pioneering women’s water polo in Australia that has led to more Olympic medals and world titles.

Watson misses the camaraderie of her 2000 Team and misses the game.

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it was 10 years ago and some days it feels much longer.”

Watson who is a high school PE teacher is married and after a long wait gave birth to baby boy Will 10 months ago. Her mum is lined up for babysitting duties for the long awaited Sydney 2000 gold medal reunion.

The fulll team from 2000:
Liz Weekes, Yvette Higgins, Gail Miller, Naomi Castle, Bronwyn Mayer, Simone Hankin, Danielle Woodhouse, Kate Hooper, Debbie Watson, Taryn Woods, Bridgette Gusterson, Joanne Fox, Melissa Mills

Andrew Reid

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