Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Olympic Juggernauts

Every once in a while, a dynasty comes along in a sport and there's little, it seems, that can derail that team. Sure, there are players that come and go, but there aren't many teams that can string together a long line of success year after year in most sports. Ice hockey has seen a few dynasties in its history, but there is one team that truly was a juggernaut in the sport of field hockey for a long, long time.

The Olympic Games have featured men's field hockey since 1908, but women didn't get the inclusion to the Olympic field hockey event until 1980 in Moscow. There has been one team who seemingly have dominated this Olympic event, resembling the Soviet Union ice hockey squad in terms of their medal haul.

If you get confused by this paragraph, just hang in there. The first Olympic field hockey competition saw England, playing as Great Britain, beat Ireland, playing as Great Britain, by an 8-1 score for the gold medal while Scotland, playing as Great Britain, and Wales, playing as Great Britain, were the semi-finalists who lost. In short, Great Britain finished in the top-four spots in the tournament. Germany and France also participated, but they finished in fifth and sixth, respectively.

Field hockey was excluded from the Summer Olympics in 1912 in Stockholm, but the sport returned when the Olympic Games were held in Antwerp, Germany in 1916. Great Britain successfully defended its gold medal after the round-robin play, but Denmark would be the team that captured the silver medal. Belgium captured the bronze medal while France was left on the outside of the medal podium in the four-team tournament.

The 1924 Paris Olympic Games would exclude field hockey again, but, with the help of the newly-formed Fédération Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon (FIH), the sport made a triumphant return with a standardized set of rules to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games. It was here where the world was shocked and awed by a juggernaut Indian team. And this was only the start of the domination by India over the next thirty years.

India played in Pool A with Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria. The Indian team steamrolled their way to a 4-0-0 record, scoring 26 goals-for while surrendering zero goals! They would meet the winner of Pool B which turned out to be Holland. Again, the Indian squad showed just how dominant they were in controlling the game while downing the Dutch team by a 3-0 score. India would capture its first gold medal, the Netherlands would take home silver, and Germany would take home te bronze medal.

India once again dominated in the 1928 Los Angeles Olympics as only three teams competed that year: India, the United States, and Japan. India hammered Japan 11-1 before crushing the US by a 24-1 score to capture the gold medal once again. Japan defeated the US 9-2 in their game, giving the Japanese the silver while the US took home the bronze medal.

At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, there were a vast number of countries that participated. However, India was once again the most dominant team at the event. India downed Austria, Hungary, and the US in its pool by a combined score of 20-0, and then proceeded to destroy France 10-0 in the semi-final before crushing the host Germans 8-1 in the final. For a third straight Olympic Games, India had won the gold medal. Germany, as stated above, took silver while the Netherlands beat France for the bronze medal.

With the Olympic Games being interrupted by World War II, there was a break of twleve years before field hockey would be played at the Olympic level. The 1948 London Olympic Games featured 13 countries, and India found itself atop its pool again after outscoring Argentina, Austria, and Spain by a combined 19-1 score (Argentina had the lone goal against India). In the semi-final, India downed the Netherlands by a 2-1 score before advancing against the host British team. Great Britain was no match for India, and the students who once learned the game from British servicemen laid a 4-0 loss on Britain to capture the gold medal. The Netherlands would defeat Pakistan for the bronze medal. Unknowingly, though, the field hockey powers were beginning to shift.

The 1952 Helsinki Olympics saw a different format take place as the top-four teams from the previous Olympics - India, Great Britain, Netherlands, and Pakistan - were given first-round byes in a playoff tournament. Despite eight more teams joining them in the tournament, these four teams would end up in the semi-finals again. India would beat Great Britain by a 3-1 score while the Netherlands would beat Pakistan by a 1-0 score. In the final, India hammered the Netherlands for their fifth-straight Olympic gold medal while Great Britain beat Pakistan 2-1 for the bronze medal.

The 1956 Olympic Games took place in Melbourne, Australia, and everyone came in knowing that the Indian team was still a superpower. India destroyed Pool A as they went 3-0-0 with 36 goals-for and not one against in defeating Singapore, Afghanistan, and the United States. India drew Germany in the first semi-final, and handed the Germans a 1-0 loss to advance to the final. In the second semi-final, Pakistan finally overcame their previous losses by downing Great Britain by a 3-2 score. India, however, was too much for Pakistan in the final, and they captured their sixth gold medal in six straight Olympic Games with a 1-0 win. Germany captured the bronze medal with a 3-1 win over Great Britain. Great Britain, having finished second, third, and fourth in consecutive years, wouldn't see the podium for another 28 years after 1956.

The 1960 Olympic Games were set in Rome, and there were 16 teams in the event. India blew through Group A by downing Denmark, New Zealand, and the Netherlands for a 3-0-0 record. The only team to score on India was the Netherlands in a 4-1 loss as India scored 17 goals against the three teams. The 1956 silver medalists from Pakistan emerged from Group B in impressive fashion. They downed Australia, Poland, and Japan while scoring 21 goals and not allowing a goal. Kenya, in an upset, took Group C over Germany while Spain won Group D over Great Britain. India and Great Britain met in the first semi-final, and India secured a 1-0 victory. Pakistan and Spain met in the second semi-final, and Pakistan advanced to the final with a 1-0 win. In the final, the Pakistani team carried the play against India, and, in a huge upset, downed India by a 1-0 score to capture their first gold medal. Spain downed Great Britain in the bronze medal match by a 2-1 score.

The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan saw 15 teams participate. Pakistan went 6-0 to win their pool while India went 5-0-2 to win the second pool. In the semi-finals, Pakistan downed Spain 3-0 while India dispatched Australia with a 3-1 win. The finals for the third straight year featured India and Pakistan, and India would reclaim their Olympic gold medal with a 1-0 victory over Pakistan. Australia would capture the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Spain.

The 1968 Olympic field hockey event has very few details that I could find, but I was able to piece together a few items. For the first time in nine Olympic Games, India would not participate in the gold medal game as they lost in the semi-final to Australia. Pakistan, however, would play for gold again as they defeated West Germany in their semi-final game. Pakistan would once again capture gold as they beat Australia 2-1 in the final while India would take home a bronze medal with their 2-1 victory over West Germany.

The 1972 Olympic field hockey event from Munich was marred by some very unsportsmanlike behaviour from one of the 16 teams in the event. West Germany and Pakistan finished one-two in their pool while India and the Netherlands finished one-two in their pool, respectively. Pakistan met India in the first semi-final, and Pakistan would down India by a 2-0 score. West Germany and the Netherlands would play in the second semi-final, and the West Germans would advance after downing the Netherlands by a 3-0 score. The bronze medal match would see India defeat the Netherlands by a 2-1 score, but the real action happened in the final.

After West Germany defeated Pakistan by a 1-0 score, the Pakistani team proceeded to disrespect the West German team by turning their backs on the raising of the West German flag in victory after they felt that the umpiring in the game was suspect. They wore their silver medals on their feet, and they destroyed the locker room that they were in. After having seen the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games, the punishment was harsh for Pakistan: a lifetime ban for the 11 Pakistani field hockey players. After some apologies, the ban was reduced to two years. It should be noted that this was the first gold medal won by a team other than India or Pakistan in 44 years, and the first gold medal for a European team since 1920!

The final Olympic Games we'll look at today are the 1976 Olympics from Montreal. The eleven teams were broken up into two pools. Group A saw Australia and the Netherlands advance while Group B saw Pakistan and New Zealand advance. Australia would down Pakistan by a 2-1 score in their semi-final game while New Zealand would beat the Netherlands by the same score in their semi-final game to set up an all-Oceania final. After a hard-fought match, New Zealand scored the 1-0 win over Australia while Pakistan would capture the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over the Dutch squad.

The final chart from the first 13 Olympics that featured field hockey show the medal count as follows:

  1. India - 7 gold, 1 silver,  2 bronze.
  2. Pakistan - 2 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
  3. Great Britain - 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
  4. Germany - 1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze.
  5. New Zealand - 1 gold.
  6. Netherlands - 2 silver, 2 bronze.
  7. Australia - 2 silver, 1 bronze.
  8. USA - 1 silver.
  9. Spain - 1 bronze.
  10. Japan - 1 bronze.
  11. Belgium - 1 bronze.
It's clear to see that India, with ten medals, was the powerhouse team in field hockey for forty years. Pakistan came on towards the start of the 1980s, but India was by far the most dominant team in field in some time.

Just as the Soviet Union dominated ice hockey for a long stretch, the Indian team was the pinnacle of the field hockey world. Coming up shortly, we'll look at the more modern Olympic competitions when the women were included into the tournaments.

Until then, keep your sticks on the field!

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