Home­com­ing for China coach

China Daily (USA) - - RIO OLYMPICS - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Com­pet­ing in the Olympics is the cul­mi­na­tion of a long and ar­du­ous jour­ney for the ath­letes, but for Rick Azevedo, head coach of China’s fe­male wa­ter polo team, the road to Rio has been even more daunt­ing.

Af­ter men­tor­ing ath­letes around the globe for nearly three decades, Azevedo, the son of a Brazil­ian World Cup soc­cer player, never dreamed of re­turn­ing to the city of his birth as head coach of a team from the other side of the planet.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for me. Of course l love China, but to come back here with the team that I love to the place where I was born gives a lot of sat­is­fac­tion,” Azevedo said.

“I have a lot of fam­ily and friends in the stands all the time. Usu­ally at the end of a game, I will catch a glimpse of a brother or an un­cle or a nephew cheer­ing. It’s spe­cial.”

De­spite soc­cer’s dom­i­nance in Brazil, Azevedo grav­i­tated to wa­ter polo as a youth and played on the na­tional team from 1974 to 1980. He was twice named Brazil’s player of the year.

He then moved to the United States to study and play sport at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity be­fore launch­ing a re­mark­able coach­ing ca­reer that in­cluded helm­ing the Long Beach State Univer­sity squad, the US men’s na­tional team and a pro­fes­sional team in Italy.

The 60-year-old be­gan his China ad­ven­ture with a short stint with the men’s na­tional squad be­fore the 2012 Lon­don Olympics and took over the women’s team in 2013.

Al­though his goal of China reach­ing at least the fi­nal four was dashed af­ter Mon­day’s 12-7 loss to Italy, Azevedo still has a rea­son to be proud in front of his rel­a­tives and friends in Rio.

His son Tony, who was also born in Rio, fin­ished his fifth Olympics as cap­tain of the US team.

“Hav­ing Tony here and watch­ing his last game for the US brought tears to my eyes,” Azevedo said.

“This has been very spe­cial for me. Com­ing back with my son and the Chi­nese team to where both of us were born has been won­der­ful.”

While there’s been no in­di­ca­tion from Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties about whether he’ll be re­tained af­ter these Games, Azevedo said coach­ing the na­tion’s young tal­ent while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new cul­ture has been very re­ward­ing.

“I would like to stay with China be­cause we’ve started some­thing that can be­come very big,” he said.

Rick Azevedo

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