OLYMPIAN Paul Lopez only played one match in the 1996 Barcelona Olympics, but he savoured every minute as he stood between the posts when Malaysia beat the Unified Team for the ninth spot.
“In Barcelona, out of the five Group B matches, we only beat New Zealand 3-2 and were paired against Argentina in the 9th-12th classification and won 6-4.
“Ahmad Fadzil was the first choice goalkeeper and he played six matches while I was only fielded in the last match.
“I was very nervous as all this while I was only warming the bench, but after a few minutes, I became confident and it was the best game of my life as we beat the Unified Team 4-3 to finish ninth best in the world,” said Lopez.
The Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics was a joint team consisting of twelve of the fifteen former Soviet republics. Only Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania competed separately.
“We lost 7-3 to the Unified Team in the Group B match, but everybody in the squad were determined not to end up 10th, and gave one of their best performances to beat the combined strength of twelve Soviet Republics,” said Lopez.
Among his team-mates were household names Mirnawan Nawawi, Sarjit Singh, Nor Saiful Zaini, Abdul Hadi, Tai Beng Hai and Lim Chiow Chuan.
Lopez contributes his success in hockey to his employers Maybank.
“Honestly, without the support of my employers Maybank, I and many others would not have had the chance to give so much of time to hockey.
“And today, I feel sad because it is no longer the culture among banks and corporate bodies to support hockey in a big way. We only hear of two corporate bodies (Tenaga Nasional and Sapura) and Maybank still actively employing hockey players and keeping the Malaysia Hockey League alive.
“In my playing days, if you can play hockey, employment was not a problem and it was one of the encouraging factors which saw Malaysia qualify consistently in the Olympics and World Cups,” said Lopez.
Malaysia hockey has qualified for 10 Olympic Games, although they boycotted Moscow 1980 over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Lopez is featured in NSTP’s ‘Honouring Our Olympians - - A Visual Tribute’ ongoing exhibition at Bangsar Shopping Centre.