Homecoming for China coach
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.