Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hockey In Barcelona

I'll admit that there are some things in the hockey world that I have forgotten. I usually remember a lot of little details, but I occasionally stumble across something from the past that grabs my attention in a big way. Such is the case today as I was digging through the interwebs. There have been many hockey competitions at the Olympic Games held throughout time, but I had totally forgotten that the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain had held a hockey event! Unlike the Winter Olympic Games, though, this was one that was borne out of Spain's culture.

I have written about "quad hockey" or "roller hockey" in the past. However, I neglected to mention anything in that article about the 1992 Summer Olympics and how roller hockey was a demonstration sport at the Barcelona Olympics. I would have been an adolescent at the time of the Barcelona Olympics, so I don't recall a lot about the Olympiad myself. However, Joe DeLessio wrote a great article on it for Sports on Earth, and I think his article deserves a little recognition.

As per Mr. DeLessio's article,
Rink hockey dates back to the nineteenth century, when an Englishman named Edward Crawford adapted ice hockey for play on a wooden skating rink, and the earliest version of the sport used a wooden puck or flat disc as well as flat sticks. According to an informational booklet prepared by the IOC in advance of the '92 Games, the sport grew in popularity quickly, especially in England, where there were more than 600 roller rinks. By 1905, England had its first association of roller hockey clubs. In 1924, the sport had its first international federation. Two years later came the first European championships, and a decade after that, the first world championships.
In other words, roller hockey goes back as far as ice hockey does here in North America, and the 1927 European championships show that it is nearly as old as the National Hockey League crowning its champions. That's pretty impressive. Again, hockey history doesn't just exist on ice as we can see!

According to Mr. DeLessio's article, "the best players were able to play professionally in countries like Spain and Italy. In the United States, though, it remained something of a fringe sport. Its heyday in the U.S. spanned from the late 1970s to the late '80s, with its popularity mostly limited to pockets of the country, such as Texas and the Pacific Northwest. Various estimates put the total number of players nationally in 1992 at somewhere between 500 and 1,000." So it appeared the United States began to develop the game in its borders at one point, but somehow the popularity and novelty of the sport wore off. No reason is given why.

As I pointed out in my article, Spain was already a solid competitor at international events, so including it as a demonstration sport the Olympics was a bit of a no-brainer. As Mr. DeLessio pointed out, then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch had played the game himself. He also writes, "countries qualified for the '92 Games based on their finish at the in the 1991 World Cup in Portugal, organized by the Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports, a governing body that oversees not just rink hockey but all roller sports. The United States, while hardly a dominant power, was among the countries that made the cut." So that's how countries qualified for the competition.

The countries that were invited to participate in just a men's tournament included Spain, the United States, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Angola, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Japan. Group A would feature Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Switzerland, Japan, and the USA. Group B featured Spain, Brazil, Australia, Angola, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Here are some of the highlights from the preliminary round.

Japan, who finished last in Group A, got bombed in the preliminary round by Portugal (38-0), Italy (25-1), and Argentina (13-0). They gave up 95 goals in their five games, and scored just four - half of which came against Switzerland in a 9-2 loss.

Italy and Argentina finished in a 3-3 tie on the first day of the competition before Italy went on a tear. They defeated Switzerland 8-0, the USA 13-2, Portugal 5-2, and Japan 25-1 to close out the preliminary round in first-place of Group A with a 4-0-1 record. Portugal finished in second-place with a 4-1-0 record while being the most offensively-prolific team in the tournament with 59 goals-for. Argentina finished third in the group with a 2-1-2 record, and these three teams would advance to the semi-final round. The United States finished the preliminary round in fourth-place with a 2-2-1 record, Switzerland finished fifth in the group with a 1-4-0 record, and Japan would finished 0-5-0.

Group B didn't quite see any teams fall to Japan's level of play, but Australia finished in the same place in Group B as Japan did in Group A. They were destroyed 17-1 on the first day of the competition by Spain, 12-1 by the Netherlands on the fourth day, and scored four of their seven total goals on the fifth day in a 7-4 loss to Brazil. To Australia's credit, though, they only surrendered 42 goals in the competition.

Spain cruised through the prelims with a 5-0 record to finish atop the Group B standings. Brazil's only loss came to Spain as they finished second with a 4-1 record. In a battle for the third qualifying spot, Germany and the Netherlands met on the fifth day with both teams vying for that spot. The Netherlands used a 3-1 first-half lead to pace them to a 5-3 win, giving them a 2-2-1 record, better than Germany's 2-3 record. As a result, the Netherlands finished third and Germany finished fourth. Angola finished in fifth-place as they brought home a 1-3-1 record while Australia went home with an 0-5-0 record.

In the semi-final round, the top-two teams would battle for the gold medal while the third- and fourth-place teams would battle for the bronze medal, so every game counted. The Netherlands, unfortunately, would not record a win in finishing in sixth-place in the semi-final round, being outscored 29-5 in their five games. Brazil would also head home as they finished in fifth-place with a 1-3-1 record. Their win came against the Netherlands, but the draw they recorded came against Spain in which they played their best game of the tournament, posting a 2-1 halftime lead to tie the powerful Spaniards 3-3. It wouldn't matter in the end, though, as they fell to Portugal a day later, making it impossible to catch Italy for fourth-place in the round.

The bronze medal game featured fourth-place Italy (2-3-0) and third-place Portugal (3-2-0). They had met on the first day of the semi-final round where Portugal outscored Italy 3-2 in the first half and 2-1 in the second half for a 5-3 victory. Portugal jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first half of the bronze-medal game on goals by Luís Ferreira and Victor Hugo Silva while Francesco Amato had Italy's goal. In the second half, though, Italy played a dominant defensive game, holding Portugal off the board while getting goals from Massimo Mariotti and Roberto Crudeli to pace the squad to a 3-2 victory and the 1992 bronze medal for men's roller hockey!

That leaves just two teams for the gold-medal match, and they come from both Europe and South America where the game of roller hockey is extremely popular. The home country of Spain finished atop the semi-final group with a 4-0-1 record while Argentina finished with a 4-1-0 record - their only loss coming to Spain by a 3-2 score. Would the host team get the same result in the gold-medal game?

While the semi-final contest was closely contested with neither team giving an inch and capitalizing on the few mistakes the other made, the gold-medal match was and offensive explosion! The two teams battled to a 5-5 halftime score meaning that the first-ever gold medal in roller hockey would be decided in the second half. A 3-1 score in the second half for the Argentinians would be all that was needed for the country to claim gold as they downed Spain by an 8-6 final score. Argentina would win the first-ever roller hockey gold medal!

This was the only Olympiad to feature roller hockey. The IOC had decided in 1989 that demonstration sports would no longer be included in the Olympics beyond 1992, so it would have to be included as a full Olympic sport beyond Barcelona. However, it was killed off at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games after some political in-fighting. Mr. DeLessio writes, "[S]ome in the United States Amateur Confederation of Roller Skating (now known as USA Roller Sports) pushed hard for the Atlanta Games to include not just rink hockey but also other roller skating disciplines, like artistic skating. At the time, he said, the U.S. federation was run by artistic-skating people, and they saw rink hockey as a sort of stepping stone to getting the other disciplines into the Games as well. The idea was that if they all didn't get in, none would."

If roller hockey was a fringe sport in the US, artistic skating was practiced even less outside US borders. The IOC would have liked roller hockey to remain, but it was hesitant to include any other roller skate sports. As a result, roller hockey would only award medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

There's a great historical look at one of the forgotten hockey events at the Olympics. Again, I have to credit Mr. DeLessio for prompting this article as I happened across his excellent and informative piece while searching for some information on inline hockey. I recommend reading through his piece as it's an excellent article on roller hockey in the United States!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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