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
As with any subject, however, understanding comes easiest with a little background.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Finland hosted 12 teams, as India was first, with Netherlands stepping
up to claim silver, and Great Britain taking home bronze.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.