When you grow up in sunny Long Beach, California, playing water polo is practically de rigeur. And when your dad’s the polo coach, it’s pretty much a no-brainer, so Tony Azevedo jumped into the pool and started playing when he was just eight years old and never left. Today, the Brazilian-born Azevedo, 34, is a four-time Olympic athlete with a silver medal to his name. Now a veteran of the Olympics, Azevedo is headed to Rio (where he was born) with Team USA and is ready to hunt down the gold. Azevedo, who spends up to eight hours in the pool per day training with his teammates right now, took a short break to speak about that time he met Kobe, the specter of Zika, and heading to the Olympics with dad (who’s coaching the Chinese women’s water polo team).
What originally attracted you to the sport?My father coached and played water polo and most of my friends played the sport growing up in Long Beach, Calif.
When did you first start playing water polo?I first started playing when I was 8 and at 10 was competing in the U.S. Water Polo Junior Championships.
What was your first major victory that made you think you might be good at it?Probably when we won the Speedo Cup for the second time in a row. It was then that I thought I was actually pretty good.
What’s been most challenging to you as you train for Rio?My focus is and always has been winning a gold medal, so the distractions come and go, but I have managed to stay focused. I would say the decision for my pregnant wife, Sara and child, Cruz, to stay home due to Zika was a hard decision but now that we have made it I am totally passed that and refocused on gold.
What’s your pre-game ritual?I need calm and relax time. Whether the games are at night or in the morning, I need a nice cup of coffee or espresso and a newspaper about 30 minutes before we have our team meeting and head for the pool.
Do you have any good luck charms or something you always bring with you for a big game?Honestly I don't have any good luck charms. What I do have is a routine. I need my Amazing Grass wheatgrass every morning and a good complete meal. Then my calm time of coffee/espresso and some kind of news to read. Before I leave the house, I need to have my Apple Watch to track my out of pool exercises.
What’s always in your gym bag?You can always find my Apple Watch to check heart rate/go through my program, text messages, and emails. I will always have an Amazing Grass bar and my Mobot for water and soft tissue work.
What songs do you like to listen to when you train?We usually only get to lift with music, but when it's my choice I love Robyn and AC/DC.
Olympian you are most excited to meet?I have gotten to meet most of my Olympic idols throughout the last four Olympics (fortunately), but I would say that a picture with Usain Bolt would be pretty cool. One of the best things I got to do was meet Kobe Bryant at the opening ceremonies and have a conversation with him in Italian. I am a huge Lakers fan and it was great being a USA teammate of his at the Games. I did get a picture with Kobe.
Who will you call first if you win in Rio?My wife, Sara, who will be at home in Long Beach, California. I will Facetime with her so I can see her and Cruz. My dad, Ricardo (who is Brazilian) will be in Rio as the head coach of the Chinese women’s water polo team so he won’t be far behind.
What will you do first if you win in Rio?Cry and enjoy an awesome night with my boys (the U.S. team)!
Meet the other stars of Team USA here:
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Olympics begin August 5 on NBC.