By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) - Italy called time on Hungary's 12-year reign of Olympic water polo in a thrilling quarter-final clash which crushed Hungarian hopes of a record fourth consecutive gold medal.
"This is the end of the story," said Tamas Kasas, 36.
While the Olympians denied after two losses in a row in the group stages that their better days were behind them, they were silenced on Wednesday by a hungry Italian side whose strength showed in the middle periods.
Kasas, who usually gives nothing away, appeared visibly shaken as he spoke to reporters after the defeat.
"I feel empty. I didn't expect this game," he said.
"We didn't play well. Maybe they were stronger in the head today. The other team wanted to win the gold medal, they've never won it, and this time they were stronger."
The 6-ft-7 Hungarian player, hugely famous in his own country, returned to the international game late last year after a break following the 2008 Games, chasing a final taste of the Olympic dream.
Asked if he will now retire from international water polo, he replied: "Yes, probably."
Kasas and three of his team mates, goalkeeper Zoltan Szecsi, Gergely Kiss and Peter Biros, have all won three gold medals and were appearing at their fourth Olympics this year.
"I think many players will quit. We wanted to finish in a better way but it was a wonderful journey," Kasas said.
He said he wasn't worried about the future of the sport in Hungary, where water polo is popular.
"New players, new teams will come up and this is the way it is, life, so we have to accept it," he said.
Hungary's tournament at this Games got off to a shaky start, but the old Hungary appeared to resurface in the team's classy disposal of a strong U.S. side on Monday, leading goalkeeper Szecsi to declare that the Olympics had now started for real.
The team's quarter-final performance was not without spirit. Hungary fought back in the final quarter to move within one goal of their opponents but the world champions scored twice in the final minute to seal the victory.
Italy will now play Serbia in the semi-final on Friday.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)