A closer look at the 24 competing teams at the Olympics
'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we feature the women's national team of Australia.
Currently seventh in the FIH rankings, Australia enters the Games with 1548 points to their name, nestling them between their rivals New Zealand and Korea. They have played in every Olympic women’s hockey tournament, with the exception of the boycotted debut year in 1980 in Moscow. More importantly, the team is the most successful, recording three gold medals in seven showings. Indeed, they are the only side to win back-to-back titles, doing so in 1996 and on home soil in 2000. That was the last time the Hockeyroos claimed a top four slot in the Olympics and their recent form has seen them dip outside the top four at the World Cup and relegated to Champion’s Challenge I level in the wake of the 2011 Trophy in Amstelveen.
The Road to London:
Qualification was never in doubt with Oceania’s quota of two teams seeing Australia and New Zealand receiving virtual byes to the Games with none of the Pacific Islands entering the Oceania Cup. The Kiwis, though, won the three-game series for the title with a 4-2 victory in the final game to win on goal difference and leap-frog their neighbours in the process.
Players to Watch:
Casey Eastham is dubbed on the Australian website as “The Baby of the Beijing Olympic Games” and has since transitioned into a team leader for London. In 2009, she was named the World Young Player of the Year in 2009 and hasn’t looked back as one of the top midfielders in the sport. The young Australian team will also no doubt rely on veteran presence of captain Madonna Blyth, who already has 200 caps at the age of 26. In terms of youth, at only 20, Georgia Nanscawen is the face of the future. She made her debut for the Hockeyroos one day after her 17th birthday to become the third youngest Hockeyroo of all time. The Victorian has already played over 70 games for Australia and is, unbelievably, likely far from reaching her full potential as a player.
Adam Commens is no stranger to Australian hockey. A former midfielder for the Australian men’s side. Commens already has one Olympic medal in his collection, a bronze from the 2000 Games in Sydney as a player. From 2007-2010, Commens was at the core of the resurgence of Belgian hockey, leading the men to their first Olympic participation in 32 years with a win over then-World Champion Germany. Commens took over as the head coach of the Hockeyroos in November of 2010. Since then, he has brought a wealth of young talent into the team, leading the mixed results the last two years, which can expected from an inexperienced squad.
The Hockeyroos are young and hungry and come to London without the expectations of several of the other top teams, something that could work to the advantage of a team normally saddled with the ‘favorite’ burden.. Hockey Australia said of the team, “Commens has reinvigorated the team with a new fast and attacking style of play and has spent hours focusing on penalty corners and developing drag flicking in the women's game to best prepare the Hockeyroos for the Olympics.”
Coach Commens has recognized his team has been in a state of “transition” in the past year. Whether the team has come full circle to recover from that low ebb and be a major contender remains to be seen. Reading the players bios, two words continually pop up ‘injury’ and ‘young’. You can have one or the other, but if you enter the Games with both it makes it a long road to the podium.
Chalk this Olympics up to experience for one of the youngest women’s teams in London. Teams always aim to go for the gold, but it is more realistic that the Australians will finish in the middle of pack. However, the lessons they learn in London are sure to be worth their weight in gold, leading to a potential samba celebration dance in Rio.