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US 8, Spain 5

US women win 1st gold in Olympic water polo

American players and coaches celebrate after the US women cruised by Spain to capture the gold medal for the first time.

Al Bello/Getty Images

American players and coaches celebrate after the US women cruised by Spain to capture the gold medal for the first time.

LONDON — The United States won its first gold medal in women’s water polo, getting five goals from Maggie Steffens and a sterling performance from goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong to cruise to an 8-5 win over Spain on Thursday.

The Americans overpowered a young Spanish team at both ends of the pool to lead, 5-2, by halftime, and they never looked back.

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‘‘I am speechless. It still hasn’t sunk in,’’ US captain Brenda Villa said. ‘‘I can’t describe it. It’s the end of a journey, and I got my fairy-tale ending.’’

The US has long been a power in women’s water polo, but the Americans had never translated their success at other major competitions to the Olympics, taking bronze in 2004 and silver in 2000 and 2008.

Villa and Heather Petri played on all three of those Olympic teams. They came back this year, along with five other veterans from 2008, and were joined by a talented batch of new players, chief among them the 19-year-old Steffens, who led all scorers in London with 21 goals.

Her five-goal effort in the final came as a bookend to her stunning seven-goal Olympic debut.

Steffens was unstoppable against Spain, scoring from long distance, outmuscling Spanish defenders in front of goal to score in close, and even converting a penalty shot.

For Steffens, who was in the stands with her family to watch her sister Jessica lose the 2008 final, it was particularly sweet this year to give Villa and Petri a win to end their careers.

‘‘I’ve looked up to Brenda and Peti, and I was at the 2008 Games and I felt that passion of the loss,’’ she said. ‘‘I wanted this for Brenda and Peti — to be able to retire and go out with the happiness of having gold, and for the ‘08 girls, to fill that void, to get the gold medal.’’

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