Olympic Field Hockey History

Athletes on the track or in the pool tend to get the most attention at the Summer Olympic Games, but study Olympic Field Hockey history and you'll find plenty of other feats that will impress. While the teams generally don't rack up large scores, the competitions are fierce and diversely competed internationally. And unlike its ice hockey counterpart, field hockey requires nothing more than sticks, a set of balls, a field and two goals.

Taking the international stage. Field hockey as a sport was around for several years before it reached the Olympics. The game was invented in the United Kingdom and "exported" to India by British service personnel in the 1880s. The game is actually a derivative of cricket. Field hockey was first competed at the Olympics by men during the London Games of 1908, and, befitting of its origins, it was a United Kingdom affair. Squads from England, Scotland and Ireland took gold, silver and bronze.

Uneven beginnings. After that first games, field hockey was dropped as a sport in 1912 in Stockholm, was added again in 1920 in the Antwerp Games and then removed again in 1924 in Paris. The Paris organizers felt the game did not have the required amount of credibility because it lacked an international governing body. However, Olympic organizers restored the sport in 1928 in Antwerp, and it has been competed in the Summer Games continuously ever since.

Dominant squads. India and Pakistan have been dominant forces in men's field hockey. India won gold medals in consecutive Olympics from 1928 to 1956, and then again in 1964 in Tokyo. Pakistan bested India in the fields in 1960, ending a winning streak of India of some 30 matches, and Australia in 1968. Observers of the game believe India and Pakistan began to lose their dominance when the game was started to be playing on artificial turf, which is expensive for developing nations.

Recent powerhouses. The strength in men's field hockey has shifted in recent years to Europe, and in particular to Germany and the Netherlands, which have won gold in four of the last five Summer Olympics. The Netherlands has made it to the medal round in each of the last six Olympics. One of the more memorable games was the championship match in the Olympics at Sydney in 2000, where Netherlands bested Korea in overtime.

Expanding to women. Olympic field hockey made history by expanding the game to include women's squads at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, where gold was won by Zimbabwe. The Australian women have won three of the eight Olympic field hockey competitions. The Netherlands has been strong in women's hockey as well, competing in six of eight medal rounds in which women's hockey has competed.

United States performance. The U.S. men and U.S. women field hockey teams have typically not competed as the highest levels of the sport. The men won bronze in 1932 while the women took bronze in 1984 in Los Angeles. The women's bronze in Los Angeles was particularly memorable as it required a penalty shootout to break a tie. The United States and Australia both finished the round-robin competition at 2-2-1 and were knotted up in several tiebreakers, requiring the shootout.

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