REACHING FOR GOLD
Bill Colwill reflects on the planning and preparations we have all been witnessing.
SO ITALY HAVE PUT GERMANY OUT OF THE EURO FINALS and Lukas Rosol removed Rafa Nadal from the Wimbledon championships. In our wonderful world of sport, anything is possible. That is what makes it so compelling and why writing about sport will always be more a privilege than a duty. I am still scratching away after 50 years and never cease to be amazed and am in awe of sport at its most absorbing. What a great way to make a living. Sure beats working. However, as we look forward to the Olympic Hockey competition at the forthcoming Games the build up is now complete, the squads selected and all is set to go and our hopes for medals high.
Planning for the 2012 Games was well advanced even before the British squads left Beijing with their fifth and sixth places. The coaches, both with Olympic experience, the men’s coach Jason Lee set for his fifth Olympic experience, three as a coach and two as a player, were in place. Funding for a Home Games was well established and appeared generous and without having to worry about qualification, which with a home games was automatic, the coaches could plan their four-year programme as they saw fit. Finally, the England squads, which were likely to form the baulk of the Olympic teams, were reaping the benefits of their National programmes. The future was promising.
Before the GB squads could concentrate exclusively on the Olympics the National squads were required to focus on two European Cups, a World Cup, Commonwealth Games and in addition three Champions Trophy tournaments. Results throughout were encouraging. The women took Bronze medals in two European Cups, Commonwealth Games and World Cup and whilst their performances in the Champions Trophy events were variable they did finish with a very creditable Silver medal in the 2012 Champions event after being beaten by host Argentina 0-1 in the final.
The men’s performance was just slightly less consistent which was disappointing after England’s splendid Gold in the 2009 European Cup in Amstelveen. Fourth places followed in the World Cup and most surprisingly in the Commonwealth Games. Sixth place finishes in the 2009 Champions Trophy by England and the 2011 Trophy event by GB were also a little perplexing. England then returned to the Trophy rostrum with a Bronze medal in the 2011 European Cup. Except for the fine-tuning, the stage is now set for the 2012 Games with hopes and expectations high for at least podium finishes. The lights are shining brightly but we must retain our focus. The preparations could not have been more comprehensive.
Selections seldom seem to please the media and Jason Lee and Danny Kerry‘s choices are no exception. But then that is not the object and many considerations have to be taken into account which even a well-informed media, frankly, are seldom aware of. No longer are hockey selections made-up of a first choice line-up and suitable substitutes if things go wrong. Now, with rolling substitutes, the whole squad is much more likely to play an active part and subject to no injuries, everyone in the squad will probably be playing within 15 minutes of the start of the team’s first game.
The disappointing omission form the Women’s squad is clearly Leicester’s Becky Herbert. A striker who is not afraid to put herself about a bit and a useful player to have around along side Britain’s greatest strike force - Alex Danson. I sincerely hope that Herbert’s experience, she also just missed out on the Beijing Games, will not be greatly missed.
Jason Lee’s selection problems as to who to leave out will have required much more thought. The Mantell brothers, Richard and Simon, will be major surprises to many, although Simon has been carrying an ankle injury sustained in the Test event. The absence of 35-year-old veteran Mark Pearn and the all action Richard Alexander (Ratman) will both rasise eyebrows. Many armchair selectors felt Adam Dixon was a cert, but it was not to be. Coaches stand or fall on their selections we can only hope that our two gentlemen have got it right. Good luck to the two Great Britain squads no British team has ever had so much investment.