1908-2012: Olympic hockey covers a memorable journey

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Bangalore, July 2: Field hockey had made its debut in the Summer Olympic Games in the 1908 edition, which was also held in London. It was only a men'’s sporting discipline then. Six teams, including four from the United Kingdom, had participated. England was the first-ever gold medal winners in Olympic men'’s hockey. In 1912, the sport was removed from the Olympics owing to lack of adequate support.

In 1920, it had returned while again in the 1924 Paris Games, authorities refused to include it for there was a lack of an international body for the sports. The International Hockey Federation was formed that year as a response to the omission. Hockey, however, returned to the Olympics as a men'’s discipline in the 1928 Amsterdam Games and has remained a regular feature of the Olympics ever since. Women’'s hockey was included in 1980 at the Moscow Olympics for the first time.

India win gold six times on a trot

Initially India (including the British India till 1947) and afterwards Pakistan had dominated at the Olympics. Between 1928 and 1968, it was only either of these two teams that had pocketed the hockey gold. India (earlier British India) have won gold in the Olympics eight times including six on the trot between 1928 and 1956. In 1960, they were defeated by Pakistan in the finals. India regained the pride again in 1964. However, India’'s fortunes in hockey have nosedived since those days and it had reached the nadir when the team failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the first time ever.

Decline of the Asian giants

Since the late 1960s, other countries began to taste success at the Olympics with the decline of India and Pakistan. One of the main reasons for this decline was the inclusion of Astroturf with which the sub-continental teams found difficulty in adjusting. Gradually, teams from the Southern Hemisphere began to win medals at the Olympics. Today, teams like Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa are formidable hockey sides in the men'’s and women'’s sections.

Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea are other fiercely competitive sides in modern-day hockey. Germany is the reigning champion in Olympics hockey while the Netherlands have made it to the medal round in each of the last six Olympics. Teams like Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, China and Japan are no lesser forces, either.

Today, 12 teams participate in the Olympics in both the men’'s and women'’s sections. The teams are divided into two pools of six teams each and two teams from each group advance to the semi-finals from which the finalists emerge. The other eight plays for the rest of the positions. The women'’s section has seen change of formats many times in the last 32 years.

Hockey, although not like football, but has produced some of the most dazzling display of skills at the mega showdown. We still remember a wizard called Dhyan Chand, who during his heydays had made his country an invincible force at the top.

Facts from previous editions

1. India defeated the USA 24-1 in the 1932 Los Angeles Games, the biggest margin ever in the tournament. India also have won the maximum number of golds in Olympics hockey (eight). The Netherlands and Australia have won four golds each.

2. Astroturf for hockey matches was introduced in the 1976 Montreal Olympics for the first time.

3. The US women’'s team had arrived at the stadium to watch the Netherlands-Australia match with their gaming equipment thinking they might have a chance to win the bronze. And their hopes became true as the Netherlands defeated Australia and soon after the match, the US and Australia were seen locking horns in a penalty shoot-out to decide the winners. The US won 10-5. It was in the 1984 Olympics.

4. Indian players saluted the flag of the Indian National Congress before their 8-1 victory over Germany in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. India, which was still a British colony then, was forced to march under the Union jack at the opening ceremony. Dhyan Chand netted six of the eight goals to trounce the hosts before the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.

5. India routed Great Britain, their former colonial masters 4-0 at the 1948 London Games final. India did not have some of its key players from the earlier Games owing to the Independence and Partition but yet displayed a 25-2 scoreline in its five games.

6. Pakistan was the first team to halt the Indian juggernaut at the Olympics in 1960. It beat the arch-rivals 1-0 in the finals of the Rome edition. Till then, India'’s scoreline at the Olympics hockey had read 178-7!

7. Pakistani fans unleashed anger on the pitch and even poured water of the international hockey body’'s chief to protest West Germany'’s 1-0 victory over their team in the 1972 Munich Games final. The Pakistanis argued that Michael Krause’'s goal was not a legal one. The players even handled their silver medal disrespectfully, it is learnt. Eleven Pakistani players would have banned but for a high-level apology which had reduced the penalty to two years.

8. Between 1928 and 1972, either India or Pakistan had bagged all the Olympic hockey gold medals.

9. China won its first Olympic medal in the 2008 women'’s section. They won the silver after going down to the Netherlands 0-2.

10. Zimbabwe, a last-minute replacement at the 1980 Moscow Games, which was boycotted by several countries on political grounds, won the gold medal in the women'’s section. It was also the first time that women'’s hockey was included in the Olympics.

11. Elisabeth Maragall, niece of former Barcelona Mayor Pasqual Maragall, helped Spain to win the gold in the women'’s section in the 1992 edition.

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