Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Spotlight.... Australia men

A closer look at the 24 teams in the London 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 Australian men's national team.
The Basics:
The Australian men are currently top in the FIH World Ranking with 2188 points, a full 200 points ahead of nearest rival, Germany. They have played in all but one (1980) Olympic Games since first entering in 1956. After three silver medals, they finally struck gold in 2004 in Athens and have also won two bronze medals in their 13 entries. They are the current World Cup, Champions Trophy and Oceania Cup holders following a stellar run in 2010 and 2011. For trivia lovers, if Australia does win the Olympic Gold Medal, it will become the first-ever nation to hold the maximum number of FIH World Ranking points available, an incredible feat and a nod to their dominance in the last cycle of events.

The Road to London:
With Oceania’s quota of Olympic qualifiers increased to two and the withdrawal of all other nations bar New Zealand, Australia was a virtual automatic qualifier. For good measure, they won the three game series against the Black Sticks with a 6-1 result in game three to claim a seventh consecutive Oceania Cup.

Players to Watch:
While Australia has a multi-faceted selection of stars, Jamie Dwyer is the obvious one that shines brightest with his remarkable control and trickery, carried out at top speed. The esteem he is held in by his peers has seen him voted FIH World Player of the Year for the past three years and five times in total and he has won everything in the game, the 2004 Olympic title and the 2010 World Cup the pinnacles.

A four-time Olympian as a player and two-time gold medalist as coach of the Hockeyroos, Ric Chalesworth is aiming to complete the full boat from the men’s coaching perspective since taking over the Kookaburras in 2009. A hockey international and highest level cricketer, Charlesworth earned a myriad of awards in his playing days, chief among them the Australian Order of Merit and induction into the country’s sporting Hall of Fame. As a hockey player, he won World Cup gold 1986 in London, adding top-scorer gong and player of the tournament to boot. His best Olympic performance as a player came in 1976 in Montreal with a silver medal and his success translated into the coaching sphere. From 1993-2000, he coached Australia’s women to back-to-back Olympic titles and two World Cup crowns. His tenure as men’s coach looks to be going the same way, winning the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi, the Commonwealth Games and three Champions Trophy titles. Gold at the Games would provide an extraordinary cap on a remarkable life in sport. Aside from his impressive sporting career, Charlesworth is also a qualified doctor and served as a Member of Parliament in Australia between 1983 and 1993.

Their ability to impose a lightning quick tempo on more sedate opponents has raised the bar in recent years and a settled squad with the likes of Eddie Ockenden, Des Abbott and Simon Orchard to the fore and Dwyer as the fulcrum, there are plenty of angles of attack. At corner time, Chris Ciriello and Luke Doerner provide powerful options in a formidable line-up.

It’s never easy to go into any event as the favourite, but add the element of the Olympics and you have a pressure cooker situation. Other teams have nothing to lose chasing down the Number One team in the world. Australia will definitely be the hunted prey, and with the nation hosting the next big FIH event, the Champions Trophy in December in Melbourne, the necessity to succeed in London will be doubled.

Crystal Ball:
Four successive Champions Trophy wins and a World Cup win leading into the competition points to that status and anything less than gold can be seen as potential unfulfilled. Great Britain look to be their main threat in the group stages while Germany have shown an ability to best the Aussies but they will most likely need to oust Charlesworth’s hordes – either in the final or semi-final – if they are to win gold.