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(E) US Waterpolo Coach Ratko Rudic
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/29/2004 | Sports | Unrated
(E) US Waterpolo Coach Ratko Rudic

 

Croatian US Waterpolo Coach Ratko Rudic

The following appeared in today's issue of the Long Beach Press
Telegram. John Kraljic

Rudic unknown in U.S. so far
DOUG: Rudica taskmaster.

By Doug Krikorian
Sports columnist

Saturday, February 28, 2004 - He is seated there in the restaurant
booth, and diners file unknowingly past him, not realizing they're in
the presence of a legendary figure of his game, a revered figure who's
treated like royalty when he returns to his native Croatia or to the
other country where he has made such a staggering impact, Italy.

There is an unmistakable aura about him, and he carries his hulking
framehe's at least 6- foot-3 and at least 235 pounds with a cool
self-assurance that betrays a toughness befitting his exalted status.

He is 56, but the full, square face framed by a clump of black hair
still hasn't been invaded by wrinkles, and a distinctive mustache
dominates his rugged features.

"Love America,' he says in halting English. "Hold Croatian and Italian
passports, but might remain in America. The people friendlier. Need
directions here, people help you. In Europe, they turn away.'

They don't turn away from Ratko Rudic, not in Croatia, Russia or Hungary, not in Italy, not anywhere on the planet where men's water polo is played because Rudic happens to be the John Wooden of this particular endeavor.

"No doubt Ratko is the best men's water polo coach in the world, if not
the best ever,' says Rich Foster, the Long Beach- based U.S. Water Polo
president who's responsible for luring Rudic here to coach the national
team. "That's why we hired him. He's the best. Just look at his track
record.'

No doubt Ratko Rudic has the deft leadership touch, consummating a water
polo hat trick that doubtless never will be equaled, guiding teams to
three consecutive Olympic gold medals.

His Yugoslavian men finished on top in the 1984 and 1988 Games, then his
Italian men did the same in 1992 in an achievement that sets Rudic far
apart from his coaching brethren.

He also was quite a water polo player in his younger days, participating
in a couple of Olympics for Yugoslavia under the Tito regime before the
breakup of the country and earning a gold and silver medal.

But it is coaching that has gained him a worldwide reputation, and is
responsible for his spending most of his waking hours these days at the
U.S. National Team's training facility on the Los Alamitos military
base.

"Ratko has totally restructured the entire water polo program in this
country from the ground up,' says Foster. "He definitely knows what he's
doing, and I think you're going to see significant results in a few
years.

"What makes Ratko such a tremendous coach is, one, his preparation. The
guy is a workaholic who puts in long hours. Secondly, he has a
tremendous tactical knowledge of the sport. He understands all facets of
it. And, lastly, his intensity. He knows how to motivate players and how
to get them in great shape. He's just a great, great coach.'

Rudic lives in Belmont Shore, and seems proud of the fact that he's able
to navigate the congested Southern California traffic without too much
misery.

"Listen, I live in Rome when I coached the Italians, and drove there all
the time,' he says, with a laugh. "If a person can drive in Rome, he can
drive anywhere.'

Ratko Rudic was born in Split on the Dalmatian coast, and actually
preferred soccer as a youth.But his father, a military officer, felt too many soccer players turned
out to be wayward adults and strongly encouraged his son to pursue water
polo.

Rudic did, and became quite good at it, playing at an international
level for 14 years before turning to the coaching profession.

He's known as a stern taskmaster, and it was a cultural shock for the
American players when Rudic took over the team in January of 2001.

"Ratko noticed that the U.S. team had been faltering in the final
period,' says Foster. "He felt they could be in better shape. And so he
started working them. Hard. There definitely was an adjustment period.'

"The players had to understand that they suffer now so later they show
strength at the end of games,' says Rudic. "They have to have a
tremendous commitment to the game when I coach them. I try not to be too
friendly with players. My job is to get most out of them. Some don't
like to be driven so hard.'

Rudic is divorced and has a 24- year-old daughter who lives in Milan.

In his spare time, he enjoys painting.

"I'm an artist,' he says. "I always liked art. I been to most museums in
Europe. My favorite? Francis Bacon. The best Italian painter? Leonardo
da Vinci.'

Before his team competes in the Athens Olympicsit drew an opening round
gauntlet of perennial powers Hungary,  Russia and Croatia it will
make an appearance in the FINA World League Super Finals that will be
staged July 16-18 at the Long Beach Swim Stadium.

The Americans aren't expected to earn a medal in Greece, but the team
must not be underestimated because of the presence of Rudic.

He does have some talented specimens in people like Tony Azevedo, Wolf
Wigo, Ryan Bailey, Chris Segesman and several others, and he has a
hallowed history of dredging the most out of his personnel.

As Rich Foster puts it, "We originally anticipated getting to the
Olympic podium in 2008, but it might happen in 2004 because we're ahead
of schedule. And we also have someone no other team has: Ratko Rudic. He
has a history of pulling off miracles.'

-The McDonnell- Douglas Show, featuring Press- Telegram columnist Doug
Krikorian and radio personality Joe McDonnell, can be heard Monday
through Friday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on ESPN radio, KSPN 710 AM.

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