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US aims for medal in rugged Olympic water polo competition

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Schroeder points out, though, that ``none of the guys has been able to put away any substantial savings'' while essentially holding down two full-time jobs. And he feels that the team should be able to find a California sponsor that would be an ideal match.

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In 1984, the water polo people came up with their own idea to generate revenue, namely a hot-selling team poster showing off a collection of deeply tanned physiques. The effort fell through this time, although Schroeder has done some modeling for individual posters.

Water polo is much more popular in Europe, where goals are sometimes placed in harbors for pickup games and fans are knowledgeable enough to know who the top American players are.

In the US, though, hardly anyone seems to care. ``You come home from a big tournament and you're lucky if your dad shakes your hand,'' says Schroeder.

One thing that has helped make the sport more enjoyable for American TV viewers is the underwater shot, used effectively by ABC at the '84 Olympics.

Much of what happens in water polo occurs below the surface, where there is a lot of grabbing and holding.

``It has to be one of the most difficult sports to referee, because you're watching players who are like iceberg tips above the water,'' notes Schroeder. Even so, the two officials who pace the pool deck catch plenty and seem to blow their whistles every few seconds.

Terry, who plays the critical two-meter position, comes in for a lot of abuse when he stations himself approximately that distance in front of an opponent's goal. He may absorb 75 to 100 minor fouls a game, a situation the game's non-punitive rules seem to condone if not encourage. The water cushions some of the contact, but the two-meter player must take his lumps without losing concentration or composure.

``You can hit Terry over the head with an anvil and he won't blink or complain,'' former US coach Monte Nitzkowski once said of the team's Rock of Gibraltar.

Two-meter men must also stay afloat despite concerted efforts to sink them. The pool depth doesn't permit standing on the bottom, which is why treading water becomes second nature, games consisting of four 7-minute periods, with 2-minute breaks in between.

``Guys could tread water for a year straight if somebody brought food to them,'' Schroeder says. ``It's not that difficult to do. It's when two or three guys are hanging on you that it becomes tough.''

Like most water polo players, Terry started off in competitive swimming. By 11, he had tired of taking laps and turned to sports like baseball and football. In high school, friends talked him into trying water polo. He took to it immediately as an ideal way to combine swimming ability with catching and throwing skills.

``Sometimes you can't help wondering about how much money you would have or where you might be if you'd spent as much time playing baseball or football,'' Schroeder says. ``But I wouldn't trade what I've done for anything. Water polo has been very good to me.''