Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olympic hockey stats...

By J.K. Russell

Olympic field hockey in London this summer will create at least a bit of new history for itself: these are the first Summer Games that field hockey will be played on a blue pitch. Riverbank Arena, the temporary venue set in Olympic Park, will host equal numbers of men's and women's teams in 2012. For many years, however, field hockey at the Olympics was a decidedly unequal affair.

As with any subject, however, understanding comes easiest with a little background.

1908: Men's hockey is contested for the first time at the London Games; six teams competed and the medalists were all teams from Great Britain (Great Britain-England - gold, Ireland - silver, Scotland - bronze, Wales - bronze).

1920: After a 12-year hiatus (including the 1916 Olympics, which were disrupted by World War I), Great Britain took gold once again, with Denmark and host Belgium taking silver and bronze, respectively. Only four teams were involved in Antwerp, a drop of two from London in 1908.

1928: In 1924, hockey was left out of the Olympics for the last time. The 1928 Olympics were held in Amsterdam, and India (most of the great field hockey teams hail from nations that are or were a part of the British Empire) starts an impressive run of dominance by winning their first gold medal. Netherlands takes silver, and Germany was the third best of the nine participants.

1932: India wins the second of an unprecedented six straight gold medals in Los Angeles. Japan was the silver medal winner, and the United States made a rare field hockey podium appearance by winning bronze (mostly explained by the fact that there were only three teams competing; the USA. was trounced in both of its matches).

1936: India wins gold again, then Germany, with Netherlands claiming bronze. Sadly ironic, Berlin played host to the final Summer Olympics until 1948, as World War II caused the next two scheduled Olympiads to be cancelled. Eleven teams took part in the competition.

1948: War proves to be the only thing that can interrupt the dominance of the Indian squad, as they are victors once again. London's pitch plays host to 13 teams, a record high at the time. Great Britain was second on home soil, with Netherlands again third.

1952: Helsinki, Finland hosted 12 teams, as India was first, with Netherlands stepping up to claim silver, and Great Britain taking home bronze.

1956: The Olympic Games were jointly held in Melbourne and Stockholm in 1956 (hockey was played in Melbourne). This was the first time that the Games had taken place in the southern hemisphere; also the latest ever that they have been contested, as closing ceremonies were held on Dec. 8. The late season no deterrent, India was champion again, with Pakistan finishing second, and a Unified German team third. For the first time, the same number of teams received invitations for a second Olympics in a row, with 12 again composing the field.

1960: A field of 16 teams would contest hockey in Rome, as Pakistan ended the run of Indian dominance dating to 1928. India did claim silver, with Spain coming in third.

1964: Tokyo was the setting as India showed that it was still among the world's best by retaking the top spot on the podium. Pakistan took home silver, and Australia earned bronze. The field dropped slightly to 15 in 1964.

1968: The high altitude of Mexico City would wreak havoc on some Olympic events and records, maybe explaining why India finished "only" third. Pakistan claimed gold, and Australia won silver. Sixteen teams competed, the same number as the field four years later in 1972.

1972: The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) won gold in Munich, with Pakistan second and India repeating their bronze medal performance from four years earlier. These Olympics were marred by the vicious "Black September" terror group attacks.

1976: Montreal hosted 11 teams in the last Olympic hockey competition to exclude women. New Zealand exploded onto the scene with a gold-medal performance, Australia claimed silver, and Pakistan rounded out the medalists. India was notably absent from the podium for the first time in over 50 years.

1980: These games were heavily boycotted, which took some shine off of the inaugural women's Olympic hockey event. Late-entering Zimbabwe claimed the first women's gold, with Czechoslovakia earning silver, and USSR bronze. Moscow was also the last hurrah for the Indian men's hockey team, as they won gold for the last time (the switch from real grass which was slower to artificial surfaces in the 1970's marked the end of Indian dominance). Spain finished second, and USSR's men took bronze as well. Only 12 teams (six men's and six women's) competed.

1984: Los Angeles played host to 12 men's and six women's teams, with Pakistan, West Germany and Great Britain the top three on the men's side of the bracket. The women's gold was snared by Netherlands, with West Germany claiming silver, and the United States earning bronze.

1988: Seoul was the setting as Australia's women took gold, Republic of Korea silver, and Netherlands bronze. Great Britain won gold on the men's side, followed by West Germany and Netherlands. Brackets composed of 12 men's and eight women's teams would constitute the standard from 1988-96.

1992: The Olympics in Barcelona are free of boycotting countries for the first time in 20 years. A post-Berlin Wall Germany is unified, and takes men's gold and women's silver. Australia takes men's silver, and Pakistan bronze. Women's gold is won by host Spain, and Great Britain took home bronze.

1996: Another Olympics was marked by terror when a bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park area. Netherlands topped the men's podium, with Spain and Australia rounding out the top three. On the women's side, the order of finish was: Australia, Republic of (South) Korea, and Netherlands.

2000: Sydney provided a chance for Australia to showcase its field hockey teams at home. The women took gold and the men bronze, with Argentina scoring women's silver, followed by Netherlands. Netherlands brought home men's gold, and Republic of Korea garnered silver. For 2000-04, the field included 12 men's and 10 women's teams.

2004: The Olympic Games returned to Athens, site of the ancient Olympics. Men's hockey was won by Australia, silver was taken by Netherlands, and Germany rounded out the top spots. Women's gold was earned by Germany, with Netherlands and Argentina following.

2008: For the first time, the men's and women's fields were equal. Twelve teams competed on each side, the same format for London 2012. Beijing witnessed Germany taking gold on the men's side, followed by Spain and Australia. Netherlands, China and Argentina were the top three in the women's bracket.

A life-long sports fan, player, coach and official, the author became hooked on the Olympic competition and spectacle during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He has looked forward to the games each Olympiad since, with London 2012 no exception.