SLO High grad goes for the gold in water polo at London Olympics

Jeff Powers works out in the pool in preparation for his third Olympics. Powers graduated from San Luis Obispo High School.
Jeff Powers works out in the pool in preparation for his third Olympics. Powers graduated from San Luis Obispo High School. U.S. Olympic Team

Preparing for his third and likely last Olympic Games in water polo, San Luis Obispo High School graduate Jeff Powers received a couple of bundles this spring from wife Kirsten.

Twins, to be exact — a boy and a girl.

Their first children, Jeff Jr. and Avery, were born March 4, two months early and right in the middle of preparations for London — complicating an already complicated lifestyle.

Since their marriage in 2006, the couple has experienced a transient international water polo life, bouncing among professional clubs in Italy, Greece and Hungary, all the while knowing that when the fantasy was over, they’d get to unpack their wedding gifts and real life would begin.

Reality — in the form of multiple late-night bottle feedings — is no longer waiting patiently.

“We’re training six to nine hours a day, and I’m almost like the walking dead when I get home,” Powers said. “It’s hard for me to even feed one of them because I’ve been falling asleep,’’ he added, noting that his wife has been amazing, taking over night feedings so he can get a good night’s rest.

The London Olympics could be the end of an era, not just for Powers but also for the U.S. water polo national team that won a silver medal in Beijing, its best result in 20 years.

Ten players have returned from that second-place squad, and seven of them, including the 32-year-old Powers, began training together in 2000 in preparation for the 2004 games in Athens.

Looking at London as perhaps its last stand as a group, the team committed itself to winning the gold. Rather than scattering overseas to play professionally, as team members usually do when national team commitments are through for the summer, Powers and the others decided to spend the past year training together in the U.S.

“Half this team will probably be finished after this Olympics,” Powers said. “That’s part of the motivating factor — that this could be the last time all of us will be playing together, and we’ve been playing together 10-plus years.”

Hungary, which is looking for its fourth straight Olympic title, returns as one of the favorites in what has been described as an even field. Serbia is another perennial power, and Italy is the defending world champion. Croatia, Montenegro and Spain join the U.S. in a group that could also take gold.

When the U.S. won silver in 2008, it was the eighth-ranked team entering the Olympics.

Powers, a 6-foot-7 utility player, still tells everyone his hometown is San Luis Obispo, even though he hasn’t lived here since he left to attend UC Irvine, where he graduated in 2003, and his parents moved away years ago, too.

Powers also embraces his role on the team. Whether he’s needed to shoot from the outside, defend the 2-meter hole or set in front of the goal, he’s willing to do whatever’s asked.

That attitude makes it easy to shift mentally toward retirement from water polo. Instead of responding to a coach’s demands, Power will focus on meeting his family’s needs.

With no work experience outside of being an athlete, Powers said he’s interested in pursuing law enforcement or firefighting — or something else entirely.

Will he try for the Olympics again in four years?

“I won’t count out 2016,” Powers said. “My wife tells me right now, it’s not looking very good because I have the kids now, I have to be able to find a job and be able to support them.

“I wouldn’t count it out, but it looks like I’m at the end of my career.”