Canadian women’s water polo team gears up for last chance at Olympic qualification at World Aquatics Championships
For the sixth time in a row, Team Canada’s women’s water polo team took home the silver medal at the Pan American Games this past fall in Santiago.
But that silver was more bittersweet than the one that came just before, as anything less than gold couldn’t guarantee their qualification for Paris 2024.
At Lima 2019, Team Canada qualified for Tokyo 2020 with their silver medal performance because the winning team–the Americans–had already locked up Olympic qualification. Team USA again took home the gold in Santiago and secured with it the Olympic ticket that they had missed out on in their first opportunity to qualify.
The Canadians knew their own Olympic qualification pathway was going to be a bit tougher as soon as they heard at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships that Team USA had been knocked out in the quarterfinals.
“It was a shock because they hadn’t lost a game in what seemed like 10 years. They’ve been winning everything,” said Canadian senior national team member Axelle Crevier. “We knew that if they won, it was a more comfortable road to Paris for us.”
Since then, the Canadians have shifted their mindset to embrace the challenge in front of them.
“Now we know that if we qualify, it’s because we really deserve it, which I appreciate,” Crevier said. “It’s not that we didn’t deserve it last time, but it was easier beating teams in the Americas to go. Now we need to beat some of the top European teams who are the best in the world.”
“It was a bit of a back door for us to get to Tokyo, which was good at the time because the program needed the qualification,” Crevier explained. Team Canada had not qualified a women’s water polo team for the Olympic Games since Athens 2004.
“But now we’re going through the front door,” Crevier quips. “We need to beat the top teams to get there. We’ll really deserve our spot and be proud that we made it on our own.”
Crevier is one of the “drivers” on the team, an offensive position focused on passing and shooting. Water polo is a contact sport, but Crevier isn’t usually one who gets into tussles, as she’s a smaller player.
She has water polo in her blood, though; her mother, Marie-Claude Deslières, was on the Canadian team in the Olympic debut for women’s water polo at Sydney 2000. Deslières went on to be the first woman to referee an Olympic water polo final at the London 2012 Games. Despite her mother’s success, Crevier says she’s never put any pressure on her to follow in her footsteps.
“She’s not that kind of mom who pushed me into it,” Crevier says. “I think she’s proud of me, more in the sense that she believes that if I want it, I can achieve it. And she’s very modest about her own career.”
Water polo isn’t necessarily a sport with a wide following in Canada, despite the popularity it enjoys in many European nations.
“Water polo is a really old sport in Canada, but we don’t talk a lot about it, and there’s fewer people that play,” Crevier says. “But for the resources we have, we’re still able to compete with the top teams.”
Often, the only association people have with water polo is that it’s an aggressive contact sport.
“A lot of people think, ‘oh it’s really physical, it’s dangerous, it’s violent.’ But there’s much more to it,” Crevier says. “Plus, Canadians love hockey, and it’s the same thing with the contact–you just add water to it!”
The women’s water polo competition at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar will take place February 4-16. This will be Team Canada’s last chance to lock up one of the two remaining spots for Paris 2024. They will need to finish among the top two nations not yet qualified. Australia, China, France, South Africa, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, and the United States are the already qualified teams.
Canada placed seventh at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships. Among the countries ranked ahead of them were Italy (3rd) and Hungary (6th), both of which are also in search of Olympic qualification.
During the upcoming worlds, Canada will play in Group D with Italy, South Africa, and Great Britain.
Before heading to Doha, Team Canada had training camps in California with Team USA and Brisbane with Team Australia, hoping to get in lots of game simulation practice with two teams that have already booked their spots.
The team was on the road for about two months, which can be tough.
“But what motivates me is being around really strong women who push themselves every day,” Crevier says. “We are pushing through together.”