Stephania Haralabidis, originally from Athens, Greece, won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the United States’ women’s water polo team on Friday. Haralabidis attended the University of Southern California, where she played for the university’s water polo team.
Before coming to the US, Haralabidis played for years in the Greek club system as a youth, and was approached to join the Greek National Team at the age of 15. As she got older Haralabidis grew into a stronger player, and the prospect of studying and playing in America beckoned her.
“My mom always had the idea and the dream that my sisters and I would have an American education. So, throughout our lives she wanted us to push ourselves with water polo and get a lot of training so we could be really good at the sport.
“When she realized that we were good, we started trying to play for the National Team, and we met Gavin Arroyo, the coach from Long Beach State, and he said we needed to come to the states and that we would be incredible players.” said Haralabidis.
The young water polo player came to California and launched her career at USC, winning the NCAA Championship with the team in 2016. It was after her success at USC that Haralabidis moved from the Greek National Team to Team USA. When Haralabidis is not playing at the international level with the US, she plays professionally in Greece.
Haralabidis made her very first appearance at the Olympics with Team USA at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and has now earned her largest career milestone possible: an Olympic gold medal. Haralabidis and her team won the women’s water polo final against Spain, marking the third consecutive gold medal win for the nearly-unbeatable U.S. women’s team at the Olympics.
Stephania Haralabidis and Team USA at women’s water polo finals
The team excelled against their outmatched opponents, deftly blocking 11 out of 15 shots taken by Spain, saving a total of 73% of shots, a crushing figure next to Spain’s 19%. Ashleigh Johnson, Team USA’s goalie, is considered one of the best in the sport. Johnson’s excellent work in the goal combined with the U.S.’ stellar offense — the domain in which Haralabidis excels — to bring the medal home for them with ease.
Haralabidis scored one of the fourteen goals in Friday’s final. The game was the largest margin of victory in a women’s water polo final, with the U.S. beating Spain by nine points.
Although all of the players on the U.S. Women’s team are at the very pinnacle of the sport, Haralabidis has a unique quality that distinguishes her style of play.
Haralabidis is left-handed — an anomaly in water-polo and amongst her teammates — and this quality shifts the dynamic in the pool and allows her to distribute the ball better amongst the other players.
“She’s a great distributor and she can shoot the ball,” said U.S. coach Adam Krikorian, describing Haralabidis’ unique athleticism. “Not to mention she’s probably the fastest player in the world. Her speed is unlike anything I’ve seen in this game.”