Tuesday, August 22, 2000
OToole hasEight-year-old Kelly O'Toole thinks her mother is pretty special.
the tools to pick
up the gold
The ex-University of Hawaii
standout, at age 39, comes out
of retirement again to join the
U.S. women's water polo team
By Pat Bigold
"I really never met a person who had been in the Olympics before," Kelly said.
Her mother is Maureen O'Toole, the oldest but most respected member of the first U.S. women's Olympic water polo team.
Kelly wasn't even a glimmer of the imagination when Maureen made her debut in 1977 at the international level as a member of the U.S. National Team.
At 39, O'Toole has competed in more world championships than any other water polo Olympian and is considered by some to be the greatest women's player ever.
The former University of Hawaii standout was named U.S. Water Polo Female Athlete of the Year five times and Women's World Water Polo Player of the Year seven times. She's been around long enough to have retired twice and had a baby.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said, referring to her decision to unretire a second time and become an Olympic pioneer.
O'Toole hates to be apart from Kelly and lets her play in the corner of the same pool where she practices with the Olympic team every afternoon in Los Alamitos, Calif.
"She gives me energy," O'Toole said. "She understands we want to win a gold medal, and she's going to Sydney with my mother."
O'Toole will have plenty of familiar company Down Under. Her boyfriend, Russ Hafferkamp, a former national team player, will be there. He'll be working with NBC on water polo coverage.
Her brother and sister also will be in Sydney.
Asked if her age in any way affects her ability to keep up with players much younger than her, O'Toole said she has one asset that can't be equaled.
"I have more experience than anyone else in the pool," she said. "And I'm stronger now than I've ever been. I used to play four quarters and never come out. Now I play less, so the quality of my water polo is just as good."
O'Toole said her position in the pool these days is called playmaker.
"It's a little bit of everything," she said.
"I play 2 meters, I'm a driver, an outside shooter."
But the 5-foot-11-inch O'Toole said players are bigger, stronger and faster nowadays.
"I weigh 150," said O'Toole, who no longer dominates physically in the pool. "I actually gained 20 pounds since I came out of retirement."
She said that due to the increasingly physical play in international water polo, she could probably use a few more pounds.
O'Toole knows how much rougher the game has become.
"I broke my nose five times between February and April of this year," she said. "I played in the qualification tournament with a broken nose. I had only broken it once before between 1978 and 2000."
The Olympic tournament will open Sept. 16 with the U.S. taking on Holland.
Asked what countries will be the biggest obstacles to the first women's water polo gold, O'Toole said the field is pretty even.
"I'd say Australia will be tough because the Games are in Australia and they've won a lot of the tournaments the last couple of years.
"Holland has the resume as probably the most successful team in the history of women's water polo. But then Canada and Russia are strong as well. So I think it will be pretty competitive."
The U.S. has had a promising summer, sweeping six games in the Holiday Cup Tournament against Olympic competition, and then beating Russia.
O'Toole said she really missed competing in the Hawaii Invitational Water Polo tournament at the Duke Kahanamoku pool this month.
It's an annual event for her. "But I've got a little better tournament coming up," she said.
O'Toole, who has a master's degree in education and has been head coach of water polo at the University of California, said she might want to settle here someday.
"I can see myself living in Hawaii," O'Toole said. "I love Hawaii."
Maureen O'TooleAge: 39
Hometown: Piedmont, Calif.
Sport: Water polo
Olympic dream quote: "I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Sydney 2000 Olympics