1983 European championships

Recently, I came across an old photograph of the Soviet team taken after the XVI European championships’  award ceremony. This event was held in Rome, Italy in August 1983.

USSR  European champions1983

Standing from left: Evgeny Grishin, Pavel Prokopchuk, Georgy Mshvenieradze, Nurlan Mendigaliev, Evgeny Sharonov, Michail Georgadze and Michail Ivanov. Front: Sergei Kotenko, Sergei Naumov, Aleksandr Kabanov, Erkin Shagaev, Igor Sedov and Nikolai Smirnov

The European championships have been held since 1926. In Rome, the USSR won the title for the third time. The previous victories were achieved  in 1966 – Utrecht, Netherlands (XI championships)  and in 1970 – Barcelona, Spain (XII).

RomeROME1For me and for several other members of our team, it was  one of the more  memorable events since – after winning it – we acquired a full complement  of the Gold medals from ALL major competitions, namely: FINA Cup, European and world championships, and Olympic games. At the previous European championships – held in 1981 in Split, Yugoslavia – we won Silver (see ‘Cold war foe – Good time keeper’ post).

It was 30 years ago but I still remember some details both in and out of the water. Here are several snapshot recollections:

Since the tournament was held on Italian soil there was a lot of beat-up by the host nation’s side regarding its imminent victory and, in particular, our defeat at their hands. Indeed, the Italians had a good team. Their leader and captain was  famous Gianni de Magistris who was referred to as ‘Pele of water polo’ (see also ‘Tania di Mario – Italy needs you! post). Six months earlier, at a tournament in Palma-de-Majorca, Spain, Italy achieved a rare win in those years against us and that possibly boosted their moral at the time. The coach of the Italian team was the current Chairman of the FINA’s Technical Water Polo Committee, Gianni Lonzi.

As it turned out, one of our best matches in Rome-83 was against Italy. Our captain, Aleksandr Kabanov, was on fire scoring several excellent goals for a final result of 9:6 in our favour. After that match, we were escorted from the swimming pool to a bus and on to our accommodation by carabinieri as the Italian tifozi started to throw tomatoes, eggs and other vegetables and objects at us and screaming  something like – ‘..this is to you for Afghanistan..’ as if we were responsible for the Soviet Union’s invasion of that country.

That was the second time we came across such accusations. The first time was at the tournament in Palma-de-Majorca in March 1983. In the game against France, the opposition players were very aggressive towards us and clearly were looking to pick a fight by trying to punch us and saying ‘..this is to you for Afghanistan..’. Obviously, they did not understand that the members of the Soviet water polo team had nothing to do with their country’s political  decision to start military operations in Afghanistan.

The winner of the tournament was determined through a round robin system, i. e. each team had to play every other – all up 7 tough matches. After four rounds, two teams – Hungary and USSR – had four wins each. On the fifth day they had to play each other. That match would determine who became the leader of the tournament. At the previous European championships, the Soviet team had managed to beat the Hungarians only once whilst Hungary came on top four times. In Rome we managed to win for the second time, 12 : 10, with Sergei Kotenko and Georgy Mshvenieradze spearheading our attack.

In the remaining matches with Yugoslavia and West Germany, all we had to do was not to lose them.  After leading throughout the entire game with Yugoslavia we drew, 8 : 8, thus ensuring our  1st placing in the tournament prior to the final match.

An interesting fact – in Rome-83, the Spanish team won its first ever international medal.


Back row from left: Felix Fernandez, Manuel Estiarte, Diego Odena, Antonio Aguilar, Jordi Neira, Jose Luis Morillo, Pere Robert and Manuel ‘Lolo’ Ibern (Head Coach). Front: Manuel Delgado, Jordi Signes, Jordi Pagna, Alberto Canal, Mariano Moya and Rafael Aguilar.

The final standing: 1 – USSR, 2 – Hungary, 3 – Spain, 4 – Yugoslavia, 5 – West Germany, 6 – Netherlands, 7 – Italy, 8 – Romania.

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

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