If you’re not paying attention to Olympic women’s field hockey because you think it’s a boring game played by slow women in long, pleated skirts wielding wooden sticks over a dusty field, you may be missing one of the most exciting competitions in London.
The Olympics have included women’s field hockey since 1980. But these days, those skirts are tailored to allow the players to move at high speed. And those sticks have been streamlined and re-engineered to send the ball at 80 miles an hour over blue artificial turf, watered down before matches to make sure the game never slows.
Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands are the powerhouses this year, followed by the U.K. As for the U.S., for the first time in history, the national field hockey team is playing in its second consecutive Olympic Games. Ranked 10th in the world, the U.S. is an underdog, but what better position to be in?
Its first match against Germany, the gold medal favorite, was a 2-1 loss that included an early penalty goal by Fanny Rinne, a German veteran with 335 international matches. Despite falling behind at the start, the U.S. battled back and dominated the front line with strong performances from strikers Katie O’Donnell and Paige Selenski. Sadly, in the final seconds, the team was unable to capitalize on a scoring chance.
Still, the game to watch is Tuesday at 2 p.m. New York time, when the U.S. meets its Pan Am rival Argentina, led by Luciana Aymar, who has been named the International Hockey Federation World Player of the Year seven times.
The U.S. team may not have a legend of that caliber, but it does have 16 women with tremendous speed, endurance, eye-hand coordination, agility, strength and focus. Veteran players like 33-year-old Keli Smith-Puzo, a mother of two who also played in the Olympics in 2008, bring experience to balance the speed and unpredictability of younger players like 20-year-old Julia Reinprecht.
Lee Bodimeade, the U.S. coach, and Terry Walsh, the national director -- Australians, both -- have had the team training with Navy SEALs, carrying boats, running in sand and swimming in the Pacific to build mental and physical strength.
The games of 2012 will feature some of the top female field hockey athletes in the world. Look for precision passing and speed. And look for the underdogs to shine.
(Carrie Lingo is a former member of the U.S. Women’s National Field Hockey Team. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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