US water polo captain Jesse Smith misses opening ceremony

Jul 22, 2021, 8:34 AM | Updated: Jul 23, 2021, 6:13 am

TOKYO (AP) — U.S. men’s water polo captain Jesse Smith missed the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics on Friday after the USOPC limited how many players from his team could participate in the festivities.

Olympic water polo rosters consist of 12 players and an alternate who can be activated before any match. The 38-year-old Smith is the alternate for the United States’ opening match against Japan on Sunday because it doesn’t need as many center defenders against the host country.

Smith wrote on Twitter on Friday that the team was told it could have 12 credentialed athletes walk in the ceremony. A message was left by the The Associated Press seeking comment from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

“I would love to go to the opening ceremonies. It didn’t work out. We weren’t able to figure out a way,” Smith said during an afternoon news conference. “But fortunately, that happened to me. This is my fifth games. I’ve walked before. I would love for my kids to be able to see me on TV and see my teammates, and so they’re going to go and I’ll be cheering them on from the village. I think there’s other athletes that are in that situation as well.”

A spokesman for USA Water Polo confirmed Friday night that Smith missed the ceremony.

Smith is playing in his fifth Olympics, matching Tony Azevedo for most Olympic teams for a U.S. water polo athlete, and he said Tokyo will be his last one. He was under consideration to serve as the male U.S. flag bearer for the opening ceremony before that honor went to baseball player Eddy Alvarez.

The 6-foot-4 Smith, who played in college at Pepperdine, won silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, the last time the U.S. won a medal in the tournament.

While Smith said the team had moved on from the situation, coach Dejan Udovicic said he felt Smith should be able to participate.

“We are not a 12-player roster. We are 13 players roster,” he said. “So me as a coach, I don’t understand the final decision.”

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