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US aims for medal in rugged Olympic water polo competition

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The situation was almost perfect for Terry Schroeder to swim off into the sunset after the 1984 Olympics. The Games were held in Los Angeles, his hometown; the water polo matches played at Pepperdine University, his alma mater. Many friends and family members turned out to see the United States team captain, who was the model for a headless statue gracing the entrance to the main Olympic stadium.

If the Americans had won the gold medal, Schroeder probably would have hung up his bathing suit. But they didn't. Despite going undefeated and tying Yugoslavia in the championship game, they wound up with the silver on the basis of fewer overall tournament goals.

So Terry, 28, is back, seeking a satisfying conclusion to an Olympic career he once thought would end in Moscow eight years earlier.

``If I had played in the [boycotted] 1980 Games, I probably would have retired, gone back to school, and got on with my life,'' he says. ``Before '84 I basically thought the same thing - that it would be my last Olympics and that I would settle down and stop this silly business of driving every night to workouts. I feel the same way now. I doubt I'll be around in '92. My wife probably has a lot more to say about it now than I do.''

Schroeder is one of five holdovers from '84 and one of just two players appearing on his third Olympic team, Kevin Robertson being the other.

The squad stands a reasonable chance of winning a medal, although the gold appears to be a long shot, given the presence of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the two co-favorites. The US gets an early test when it opens preliminary-round play this week against the Yugoslavs.

Except for the sparsely attended 1904 Games in St. Louis, when the US swept all three medals, American teams have had little success in Olympic water polo - the only other medals being bronzes in 1924, '32, and '72 plus the silver in L.A.

This year's team had some promising tuneups over the summer, though, taking first in one international tournament and third in another. The results provided welcome encouragement to the squad's 13 members, who must make significant sacrifices to play the sport.

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