Manuel Estiarte (ESP)
Honor Water Polo Player (2007)
FOR THE RECORD: 1980 OLYMPIC GAMES: 4th; 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: 4th; 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: 6th; 1992 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver; 1996 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold; 2000 OLYMPIC GAMES: 4th; 1991, 1994 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver; 1998 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold; 1991, 1995, 1997, 1999 FINA WORLD CUP: bronze; 1983,1991, 1993, 1997, 1999 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (1991), bronze (1983,1993), 5th (1997), 6th (1999);
At just 5’8″ and weighing 145 pounds, Manuel Estiarte would seem to be an unlikely candidate to be considered the greatest player of all-time in a sport whose players average 6’3” and 200 plus pounds. But Manuel’s career proved once again that it’s not the size of the man, but the size of his heart and what’s in the head that counts the most. Born in Manresa, Spain, in 1961, Manuel Estiarte began playing water polo as soon as he could swim and at the Barcelona Swimming Club (BSC) was identified as a water polo prodigy. He was 15 when he made his international debut and within three years was the top scorer at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. He repeated as the leading scorer in 1984 Los Angeles with a record 34 goals as the Most Outstanding Player of the Games. He led all players in scoring again in 1988 at Seoul with 26 goals.
In 1992 Estiarte became a national hero after leading Spain to its first-ever Olympic medal, silver, in their host city of Barcelona. But finishing the Games as top scorer again was little comfort following a dramatic gold medal final against Ratko Rudic’s Italian team. Estiarte converted a penalty 42 seconds from full time to put Spain ahead, but nine seconds later Italy equalized and went on to win in extra time. Four years later, in Atlanta, Spain and Estiarte were once again in the Olympic final, but this time the result was different. With ten seconds to play and Spain up 7- 5 against Croatia, Estiarte took possession.
“I’ve dreamt of this moment all my life,” he said afterwards. “The last ten seconds of the Olympic final, I have the ball and Spain wins the gold medal. I waited five Olympics, but it finally happened.” All totaled, in a career that spanned over two decades, he competed in more Olympic Games, six, and scored more than any other player in Olympic history, 127. He competed in over 578 international games for the Spanish team, scoring over 600 goals. For many years, he played in the Italian Professional League with Club Pescara winning a water polo grand slam of four European Championships. In 1998, he was voted Best Player of the Perth World Championships. “I had the privilege to take part in six Olympic Games, and in each one of them I felt emotions too special to be described. From the first, when I was just a young man, to the last, where I won and I had the honour of carrying my homeland’s flag.”
Following his retirement after the Sydney Games he served as a member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes´s Commission until 2004.