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Men's water polo team falls from the top, finishes 8th as games end in in London

10-9 loss to Australia bring team back home to Stanford after fifth consecutive loss

What started with a bang, ended with a whimper. That's how the 2012 London Olympic Games came to a close for the United States' men's water polo team.

The team ended its stay in the 2012 London Olympic Games with a fifth consecutive loss, dropping a 10-9 decision to Australia in the contest that decided seventh place.

The good news is that the world has not quite ended, so there is time to patch things together again and start the long journey toward the next Olympiad all over again.

The Americans ended their stay with a fifth consecutive loss, dropping a 10-9 decision to Australia in the contest that decided seventh place.

Led by Stanford grad and team captain Tony Azevedo, the U.S. had high hopes of taking that final step to the end of the rainbow.

In 2008, Team USA finished second to Hungary in Beijing and it was thought the team was on the verge of greatness.

The Americans had improved in each Olympic Game since Azevedo joined them as a high school player in 2000.

This time, they tumbled back to where they started 12 years ago.

"Not a very good way to finish, for sure," U.S. coach Terry Schroeder said.

The loss brought a disappointing end to a bleak tournament for the Americans.

With 10 players back from the 2008 squad, the U.S. came to London convinced it had a good shot of winning the first American gold in men's water polo since the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, when the only competition was three American club teams.

The players dedicated themselves to the games, forgoing the club season in Europe - and its lucrative contracts - to train together six days a week for seven months this year, with hopes of peaking in London.

Wins over Hungary, Serbia and Croatia in exhibition games convinced they did the right thing.

And they started well, beating a tough Montenegro team in the opener before picking up wins against Romania and Britain.

But when they faced the tournament's top teams, the Americans wilted, losing to Serbia and Hungary before being crushed 8-2 by Croatia in the quarterfinals, knocking the U.S. out of medal contention.

"Once you start playing badly, it's hard to get out of that mindset," Azevedo said.

It didn't get any better in the games used to determine the final standings, and a team clearly short of motivation fell to Spain and then Australia to drop to eighth place.

"I thought we started out the tournament pretty strong, and then we faded," Schroeder said. "It was very difficult to come back from that quarterfinal loss, and motivate and try to find something inside, a reason to play."

For many players, including top scorer Ryan Bailey and Adam Wright, the loss brings an end to their international careers.

For Schroeder, who took over before Beijing, it marks the end of his tenure in charge.

It was a tough way to finish their time together.

"The way that we look at it in American society that if you don't win that gold medal, second is great in the Olympics, but it's still not the achievement," Schroeder said.

As it had much of the tournament, the United States fell behind from the get-go against Australia, giving up a goal 27 seconds into the game and trailing 4-1 by early in the second quarter.

Australia extended the lead to 10-6 in the second half, and the U.S. only made the final score close with a flurry of goals in the last two minutes.

Azevedo and Stanford grad Peter Varellas each scored twice.

Track and field

Stanford grad Ryan Hall did not finish the Olympic marathon.

Hall had to pull himself out of the race at the 10-mile mark due to a right hamstring strain.

--Palo Alto Online Sports/AP

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