Water polo was kind of a men’s privilege in Russia in the Soviet era, after becoming independent, however, the women’s national team has become stronger and stronger. They have been among the favourites since the mid 90s, and their aim is to win a medal at the 2017 FINA World Championships as well.
Team sports were really prospering in the Soviet Union back in the 20th century, both the men’s and the women’s teams belonged to the favourites in major sport events. Water polo was an exception, since only the men’s national team proved to be successful. The Soviet women’s water polo team may have existed, but it was like Columbo’s wife: no one had ever seen it!
In the 90s, however, when Russia was already independent, the tables were turned. The men still had some good results until the early 2000s, but the women’s team had become stronger.
The women’s water polo tournament was part of the programme of the FINA World Championships in 1986 for the first time, but without Russia. Their first big success came in 1993, when they won the silver medal at the Europea Championships in Leeds, and they repeated that result four years later in Seville. They finished second at the 1997 World Cup as well.
The first women’s Olympic water polo tournament was held in 2000 in Sydney, where the Russians, led by Sergei Frolov, were medal contenders. They proved to be the best European team, as they won the bronze medal. That team included some world-class players like Sofia Konukh, Yuliya and Tatiana Petrova, Irina Tolkounova and Ekaterina Vassilieva.
Russia had been unlucky at the FINA World Championships until the 2003 event, when they won their historic first medal after beating Canada in the bronze final. They achieved the same result in 2007, 2009 and 2011, but they finished only in 8th place last time in Kazan in front of a home crowd.
Regarding the Olympics, they have only managed to add one more medal after the Sydney Games, last year in Rio de Janeiro, where they finished third again. The bronze final was a really memorable one in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center: the Russians were the underdogs against Hungary, but they fought very hard and beat the Magyars in the penalty shootout.
The Russian women’s team has been beyond doubt a specialist at the European Championships in the last 25 years. After their silver medal in 1993 they finished sixth in 1995, but then they won a medal seven times in a row, they even won the gold medal three times (in 2006, 2008 and 2010). The secret of that team was a good mix of some experienced players like Sofia Konukh and some talented and motivated ones. Ekaterina Prokofyeva for example was member of the winning team in 2008 in Malaga at age 17, now she is captain of the national team.
Russia’s last gold medal in a major competition came at the 2010 European Championships in Zagreb, they have won the bronze medal at the 2011 FINA World Championships and at the 2016 Olympics, and the silver medal in the 2013 World League final since then, but their dream is to win their first WCH gold in Budapest. They will not be the top favourites, but they are capable of surprising the world.
The women’s water polo tournament will be held from 16 to 28 July in the Alfréd Hajós Pool at the 2017 FINA World Championships.
Russia women’s water polo team at the FINA World Championships
Bronze medallist (2003, 2007, 2009, 2011)
Semi finalist (1998, 2005, 2013)