Feature | Water polo

Olympic water polo at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Your one-stop guide to water polo at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, including top athletes, venue information, schedule and more!

By Andrew Binner ·

The ultra-physical sport of water polo will continue its long Olympic history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Can anyone stop the dominant USA women’s team from winning a third-consecutive Olympic title?

Below, we take a look at the players expected to light up the Tokyo Stadium in 2021, the competition schedule, and even some Olympic history in our top things to know about Olympic water polo guide.

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Top Olympic water polo players at Tokyo 2020

When it comes to women’s water polo, it’s difficult to look past the USA, and their captain Maggie Steffens.

The 27-year-old is already a two-time Olympic champion, a three-time world champion, and she revealed the secret to her team’s success to Olympic Channel.

Another huge part of the United States women’s success is their brick-wall goalkeeper, and arguably the world’s best player right now, Ashleigh Johnson.

Also keep an eye out for Australia talisman Hannah Buckling, who helped Olympiacos to the Euro League final in 2019.

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On the men’s side big things are expected of Francesco Di Fulvio, who’s 10 goals led Italy to their first world title in eight years in 2019.

Injury meant Hungary’s Denes Varga couldn’t play to his potential at the world champs, but the Beijing 2008 gold medallist’s MVP performance in Champions League Final Six shows that he is still one of the world’s best.

Croatian captain fantastic Maro Jokovic has won everything the sport has to offer, but his unbelievable goal-scoring record in the last full season for club and country show that he hasn’t lost any of his appetite for top honours.

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Olympic water polo schedule at Tokyo 2020

All times are Japan Standard Time (GMT/UTC+9)

The competition will take place from 24 July - 8 August 2021.

Sat 24 July

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Sun 25 July

10:00 - 12:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Mon 26 July

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Tue 27 July

10:00 - 12:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Wed 28 July

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Thu 29 July

10:00 - 12:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

Venues: Tatsumi Water Polo Centre

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Fri 30 July

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

31 July

10:00 - 12:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Sun 1 Aug.

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Mon 2 Aug.

10:00 - 12:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Preliminary Round (2 matches)

Tue 3 Aug.

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Quarterfinals (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Quarterfinals (2 matches)

Wed 4 Aug.

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Quarterfinals (2 matches)

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Quarterfinals (2 matches)

Thu 5 Aug.

14:00 - 16:50

  • Women's Classification match (5th-8th places)

  • Women's Semifinal

18:20 - 21:10

  • Women's Classification match (5th-8th places)

  • Women's Semifinal

Fri 6 Aug.

14:00 - 16:50

  • Men's Classification match (5th-8th places)

  • Men's Semifinal

18:20 - 21:10

  • Men's Classification match (5th-8th places)

  • Men's Semifinal

Sat 7 Aug.

9:30 - 12:20

  • Women's classification match (7th-8th places)

  • Women's classification match (5th-6th places)

13:40 - 15:00

  • Women's Bronze Medal Match

16:30 - 18:20

  • Women's Gold Medal Match

Sun 8 Aug.

9:30 - 12:20

  • Men's classification match (7th-8th places)

  • Men's classification match (5th-6th places)

13:40 - 15:00

  • Men's Bronze Medal Match

16:30 - 18:20

  • Men's Gold Medal Match

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Olympic water polo venue at Tokyo 2020

Water polo will take place in Tokyo Bay’s spectacular Tatsumi Water Polo Centre.

The domed, 4,700-capacity arena was designed in 1990 and serves as the main facility for swimming and pool-based sports in Tokyo.

Olympic water polo competition format at Tokyo 2020

Ten teams will take part in the women’s competition, which is two more than competed at Rio 2016.

Women's group draw:

Group A

Australia (AUS)

South Africa (RSA)

Netherlands (NED)

Spain (ESP)

Canada (CAN)

Group B

ROC team (ROC)

China (CHN)

Hungary (HUN)

United States (USA)

Japan (JPN)

Twelve teams will lock horns in the men’s competition.

Men's group draw:

Group A

South Africa (RSA)

United States (USA)

Hungary (HUN)

Greece (GRE)

Japan (JPN)

Italy (ITA)

Group B

Australia (AUS)

Croatia (CRO)

Serbia (SRB)

Spain (ESP)

Kazakhstan (KAZ)

Montenegro (MNE)

Both tournaments will see the top four finishers per group going through to the quarter-finals, followed by semis and a final.

Knockout games that end in ties will be decided by shootouts, as overtime has been abolished since 2013.

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Olympic water polo history

Men's water polo debuted at the Paris 1900 Games, making it one of the oldest team sports in the Olympic programme.

However, the first two editions had clubs rather than nations competing. 

The first women’s Olympic tournament was held at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, where Australia won gold following an effort to develop a team for its host Games. However, the USA have been the most successful women's team overall, with two golds, two silvers and a bronze out of five Olympic Games so far.

Water polo is hugely popular in eastern Europe, and Hungary are the most successful nation in Olympic history with a grand total of nine Olympic gold medals.

Their closest rivals are Italy and Great Britain, both of whom have won four golds.

Hungarian Dezso Gyarmati is the most successful player ever at the Olympics, having won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze from 1948-1964.