Olympic hockey celebrates its centenary in Beijing, having first been played at the London Games of 1908. This year’s hockey tournament is fast approaching its denouement, with the women’s final being won yesterday by the Netherlands against China, followed today by the men’s final today between Germany and Spain.
Over the 100 years of its history, Olympic hockey has been dominated by one nation above all others. The Indian men’s team have won the gold medal eight times, including six in succession between 1928 and 1956, during which time they notched up 30 wins and no defeats, scoring 197 goals and conceding just eight. Nine of those goals were scored in the 1952 competition by Balbir Singh, a police inspector from Punjab who was known as the “Modern-Day Dhyan Chand”.
Chand himself had been an army captain from Uttar Pradesh who scored 15 goals in the 1928 tournament and went on to score a total of 38 in 12 Olympic matches, winning three gold medals. This latter achievement was matched between 1988-2000 by Australia’s Rechelle Hawkes, the only women’s hockey player to earn three medals, much less three gold medals, and the only one to win medals 12 years apart.
Women’s hockey was first played in 1980, when it produced one of the most unlikely results. Five of the six nations who were scheduled to compete in Moscow withdrew due to the boycott, and Zimbabwe were contacted just five weeks before the Games to make up the numbers. The Zimbabwean team was not even chosen until the weekend before the Games began but they went undefeated throughout the whole campaign to win their country’s first ever gold medal in any sport.
The victory of the Spanish team in 1992 in Barcelona, or Terrassa to be precise, was another very unexpected success, as Spain had no tradition to speak of in the sport but they trained continuously on the Olympic pitches for five months prior to the Games. They reached the final against Germany, and 13 minutes into overtime Eli Maragall, niece of the President of the Barcelona Olympic Organising Committee, made a spectacular dive to deflect the ball into the net for a 2-1 victory.