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Tony Azevedo could be first U.S. water polo player in four Olympics

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Azevedo: I was big-time into baseball and grew up playing Little League and basketball. I would get in and swim when my dad was coaching and play around, but I never really wanted to play water polo. Then when I was probably around eight years old, I asked him if I could play with the kids. He asked me, "Do you know how to play water polo?" But I just jumped in and started playing. Your sister, Cassie, became quite a player too, becoming a three-time All-American at Long Beach State. Are your family gatherings dominated by water polo talk?

Azevedo: Actually no, because everyone's so over water polo that when we're together it's usually movie or food or something totally off the wall. But there was a time when my mom would kind of be out of the conversation, so she started the first mom's water polo league in Long Beach. That actually has grown to be pretty big right now. She tried to enter the conversation and that's when we decided it's better to just not talk water polo at all than argue with your mom about water polo. (laughs) When you were four years old, you fell and tore your trachea and nearly died when your heart stopped.

Azevedo: Yeah, I was pronounced dead for a little over a minute. I was revived, and for the next couple months I was in and out of consciousness. Kind of miraculously within a couple weeks, I went from almost dying to ready to leave the hospital. How much do you remember from that experience?

Azevedo: I remember bits and pieces. My mom always tells me that I told her that I met some lady and she said it's going to be all right or something like that. It's not really a memory I remember, but it's definitely something I keep close to me about believing and just going after what you believe and feel. Any time when you have that kind of situation it puts things into perspective. Growing up, I took things seriously in high school and then heard people say, "Oh you're too young, oh you're too small, you're not fast enough." Those times where you don't think you can get through the training, you've just got to go back and say my god, I really believe that I can do anything. It seems you've really been able to see the world in your career, playing in Croatia, Italy, Montenegro, and Brazil, among other places.

Azevedo: It's been just the best, most amazing thing in our sport. We don't get to make millions of dollars at home and we can't really make a living just with the salaries, but the opportunities that I've had A) training with the young kids and B) being able to live in other countries and speak foreign languages and meet people -- it's something that I'll never forget. I love traveling and I love other cultures and food and talking to people and languages and the opportunity that I've gotten through water polo has just been amazing. With all that international travel, how many languages do you speak?

Azevedo: I speak Portuguese, Italian and Serbian/Croatian/Montenegran -- you can count all those as one, because it's pretty much the same. I think one of the most important things when you go to a new culture is to really make the effort. I'm lucky that I'm pretty good with languages, but I think that is always important that you go out there and really show to the other culture that you're willing to try and you respect their culture. Before I go to a country I'll have a book to study the language. I may not know what the hell I'm saying, but I'm trying from day one. You guys had a strong showing in Beijing in 2008, reaching the final before losing 14-10 to Hungary. How much motivation do you draw from coming so close to winning the gold?

Azevedo: It's definitely a motivator. We were a team that wasn't top-10 for the three years going into the Beijing Olympics -- not even top-10, money taken from us. Next thing you know, we go and make it to the finals. Now all of us are back. We have a couple guys over 34 and usually you would see some of them call it quits, but no. They want to stick around. They're putting their lives on hold. Some of them could be making millions on Wall Street but decided no, we're going to stick here and we're going for this gold. I saw your favorite pregame meal is pasta pomodoro. How did that come about?

Azevedo: Living in Italy, it's funny -- you show up, you get your pasta pomodoro, then you get some Parmesan cheese and then some prosciutto then maybe a little cake, and that is your pregame lunch, dinner, breakfast -- whatever it is, it's always the same. I honestly fell in love with it. Pasta's good and not too much meat, but like a little prosciutto with cheese and something light, that's my go-to. It's a little hard when you're in China to get good Parmesan cheese or prosciutto, but the pasta's always with me. In 2008, you were one of several athletes to pose nude for Champions by Anderson and Low, a book to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. What was that experience like? Had you done any modeling before?

Azevedo: I hadn't done any modeling. I was contacted by Elton John's representatives, and they wanted to have as many sports as possible. Since I was living in Europe, it was easy. I just flew from Italy to London and did this photo shoot. I don't know the exact numbers, but I know we made a tremendous amount of money for the cause. It was a little weird being nude at first, but nothing too bad. When I showed up, I was immediately like, "Oh man." I was covering myself and just really afraid. But by the end of the shoot I was running around naked. The directors said, "You can put a robe on," and I was like "No, I'm fine." I mean I'm a water polo player, so we're basically naked all the time anyway. It wasn't that big of an adjustment. You and Ryan Bailey have a chance to be only U.S. men's water polo players to play in four Olympic Games. What does that distinction mean to you and how many more do you plan on participating in?

Azevedo: As a kid I loved the sport. I started young and I've always known that I wanted to be a multi-Olympian and play overseas and play the sport until I just don't want to play anymore. But I'm looking more importantly to win a gold at this one and continue on to Rio [in 2016]. I think five is the minimum and I'll see how the body holds up for a sixth. I was born in Rio, so finishing there would be something very special. I'd only be 33 and in water polo there are guys here who are 36, 37. So if I still have love for the sport I'd like to go beyond. Do the Olympics change each time you go?

Azevedo: Besides the first one where you're just scared, the games don't change. You're out there, you know what you need to do, your preparation is there. The thing that changes for me is the actual [Olympic] village part [where the athletes stay], and you see all the famous stars walking around the village. You've got Kobe Bryant saying hi to you, and the president there, and that wears on people -- the next thing you know you're not getting your normal rest during the day because you're walking around seeing new things and it makes a difference. But with multiple games, you just start becoming more and more comfortable and used to really making sure that you're preparing yourself and your body for winning a gold. What's the goal heading into this year's Games?

Azevedo: Obviously the goal is to win. I think on this team, we're all sacrificing just playing abroad to stay home this year. I really believe the goal will be to start off the brackets well and just it's one big game to get to that medal round. So we'll just prepare for that and just do what we did in Beijing except finish stronger and hopefully we'll have a gold medal around our necks.