Keller named German flag-bearer, NZ men adjust with sleep

Hockey Sticks Olympics
London, Jul 26: German hockey player Natascha Keller was named her country's flag-bearer for the upcoming Olympics. Keller, thus, made history after becoming the first-ever hockey player from Germany to get such honour. Keller, 35, was a member of the gold medal-winning German team in 2004 and has played in more than 400 international matches, both indoor and outdoor.

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Keller, who has 203 goals to her name, will also become the first female flag-bearer for Germany since the 2004 Sydney Games. Another unique fact with Keller is that five from her family are Olympic hockey-medal winners. Her grandfather Erwin had won silver in 1936, father Carsten had won gold in 1972 while her two brothers, Andreas and Florian, won gold medals in the 1992 and 2008 Games, respectively.

A top German hockey professional said the decision to make Natascha Keller as the flag-bearer was not only a recognition to her but also a tribute to the entire Keller family. "Presenting our rich hockey history in this way will give hockey at the Olympics a big boost," he said.

Veteran Argentine woman hockey player Luciana Aymar will also be the flag-bearer for her country at the Olympics.

Kiwis adjust to sleeping patterns

The New Zealand men's hockey team management has ensured that no light enters the room of the players as they try to adjust themselves with the sleeping patterns for early starts at the London Olympics. The players have also been instructed to switch off their iPhones and computers.

Skipper Drean Couzins said they had asked their players to close curtains and switch off mobiles and computers by 9 pm sharp. The team, which is known for having some renowned tweeters in its rank, is also trying to limit the activity during the tournament, particularly among the youngsters. New Zealand will play their first game against Korea on Jul 30 at 8.30 am local time.

The Kiwis, ranked seventh in the world, had a training camp in Belgium ahead of the Olympics and during the 10-day camp, they played four warms-up matches, two each against the hosts and the Netherlands. They won just one from the three matches but the team management felt the team had gained some valuable practice against the Dutch. The Black Sticks will take on the Netherlands on Aug 3.

India, Germany and Belgium are the other three teams in the pool.

New Zealand beat Australia last year, their first win against the Kookaburras in 12 years and backed it up with finishing fourth at the Champions Trophy and the Azlan Shah title in June. Coach Shane McLeod said he was hoping that the team would finish among the top six.

New Zealand's only gold in Olympic hockey came in 1976.

England Hockey board wants the sport to gain prominence

England Hockey Board chief Sally Munday is sincerely hoping that the sport does well at the London Olympics. "Once it's over, I will think why I did not do this or thought about that. But at this moment, I don't think that there could be anything else we could have done to raise the sport's profile in the eyes of the public and the media," she said.

She said through the mega event, they wanted the people to feel differently about hockey.

Great Britain, although a traditional hockey powerhouse, had won gold medals way back in 1908 (England won the gold that year) and 1920 and again at the 1988 Seoul Games. England had won a silver in the 2006 World Cup but despite that, the stature of the game was not elevated in the country. Munday was hoping that such a situation would change.

She said hosting the Olympic is rare opportunity and they should make the most of it to make the occasion a memorable one. During and immediately after the Olympics, England Hockey will engage itself in efforts on those who have seen the games and want to experience it for themselves. Five hundred clubs across the UK have signed up to offer activities and training sessions during this period.

Programmes leading up to the London Games also formed a part of England Hockey's strategy. Great Britain players visited 250 schools and the Big Dribble roadshow was arranged. It went on for 18 days around the country in April. It was attended by celebrities, sporting personalities and sports minister besides the general people.

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