Aug. 12, 2012
LONDON -Cal sophomore Aleksa Saponjic has become an Olympic medalist in his first Olympic games as the Golden Bears' standout helped his native Serbia to a 12-11 victory over Montenegro in the bronze medal match of the men's water polo competition Sunday (Aug. 12) at the London Games. Saponjic has become the first Bear to win an Olympic medal in men's water polo since Kevin Robertson and assistant coach Steve Heaston were members of the USA team that won a silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
With Saponjic's bronze medal, Cal increases its overall medal count to 17 (including 11 gold medals) at the 2012 Olympics. The Bears' 17 medals ties the number of Olympic medals captured at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Saponjic, who as a freshman was an honorable mention All-American for the Kirk Everist's Bears, helped Serbia to a 6-1-1 record in London. Serbia's only loss in the Olympics was 9-7 to Italy in the Friday semifinals. Earlier, Serbia had tied, Montenegro, 11-11, in a preliminary round on Aug. 2.
In the bronze medal match, Saponjic, one of the youngest players on the Serbian national team at age 20, played a little more than eight minutes, recording a steal and winning the sprint to lead off the second and third quarters. For the entire Olympics, Saponjic notched a goal in Serbia's 21-7 win over host Great Britain back on July 31, and ended up winning seven sprints with four steals, two block shots and one assist.
In the Olympic's seventh place match, John Mann's Team USA squad suffered another heartbreaking loss, falling to Australia, 10-9, dropping to 3-5 in London and placing eighth. Mann, who played 10:15 minutes against Australia, recorded one steal and concluded the 2012 London games with goals against Romania, Great Britain and Hungary. The Americans had lost to Spain, 8-7, on Friday.
Mann helped the Golden Bears to the 2006 NCAA title and was the recipient of the Peter J. Cutino Award as the nation's top collegiate player. Saponjic was third on the Cal squad last fall with 30 goals in 22 matches as a freshman. Saponjic and Mann are the first Cal Olympic men's water polo players since four Bears - Gavin Arroyo, Chris Humbert, Sean Nolan and Chris Oeding - were members of the 2000 United States National Team at the Sydney Games.