By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) - After a surprise silver medal in Beijing, the U.S. men's water polo team took the decision to abandon their professional playing careers in Europe in a bid to win gold in London.
With their sights set on breaking a 108-year European stranglehold on Olympic water polo gold, the players sacrificed paying contracts at European clubs to concentrate on the national team.
The decision had not been difficult, team captain Tony Azevedo said.
"We want to win the gold and be the best so we felt that the decision wasn't really that hard to make in the end," Azevedo told a news conference on Friday.
The United States does not have a professional water polo league and players are supported by funds from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the country's water polo governing body, earning less than they would at a professional club.
Ranked ninth heading into the 2008 Games, the U.S., who had trained together for three months, wrestled the silver medal from the Serbians before losing the final to the Hungarians, the water polo super powers who have won gold at the last three Games.
The U.S. team are hoping that the extended time they have spent training together in 2012 will set them up for gold.
"It's huge that we've stayed together for seven-and-a-half months," said goalkeeper Merrill Moses. "It's not about winning a medal anymore; you come to the Olympics to win a gold medal."
Azevedo, who is heading into his fourth Olympics, spent four years playing in Croatia and Montenegro before the seven-month stint with the American team at their base in California, where they trained for up to six hours a day in the water.
"It's the toughest sport in the world. I don't think there's any sport that compares and the amount of training and the sacrifice, year after year after year, (with) no monetary cause like some of these other sports," Azevedo said. "It's a really big sacrifice." (Editing by Clare Fallon)