2008 Olympic Games
Featured in Fall 2008 edition of Field Hockey News
By Jeffrey Gamza
USA field hockey returned to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1996, intent on showing the world they belonged on the world’s stage.
Led by a group of steeled veterans, including team captain Kate Barber, midfielder Carrie Lingo, strikers Keli Smith, Dina Rizzo and Angie Loy, the USA qualified for the Olympic Games with a dominating run in the 2008 WorldHockey Olympic Qualifiers in Kazan, Russia.
Ranked number eleven in the world - in a pool of twelve teams - the USA figured to be an underdog in every contest. Experience would also be an issue for an entire team composed of first-time Olympians, facing defending champions and traditional medal winners like Germany and Argentina in a charged Olympic environment.
The time for Kate Barber and the USA Field Hockey Women’s National Team had finally arrived. After years of heartbreaking losses and missed opportunities, the USA took the next step in the evolution of their program by qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games with a 3-1 victory over Belgium in the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifiers in Kazan, Russia.
With the victory, USA field hockey would return to the Olympic Games for the first time 1996. To help prepare, the USA traveled to Europe to participate in several test series against some of the world’s top teams. The results of those matches helped form and raise expectations for a potential Olympic performance.
“We had a chance to finish anywhere between three and eight,” said Terry Walsh, Technical Director for High Performance. “It was a reasonable expectation given that we had finished sixth at the World Cup.
“We played pretty well recently, and if things fell right for us in the tournament, we were in a place where we could finish near the top of our pool. If things didn’t drop well for us, we could finish in the bottom two, as well. It was up to us how we were going to perform and whether or not we could manage to play at the level that was needed for Olympic competition.”
Head Coach Lee Bodimeade, an Olympian himself with the 1992 Australian National Team, would lead the USA back onto the hockey pitch.
“Our expectations were quite high,” said Bodimeade. “The performances leading into the Games, including Kazan, were a good-lead in, then the Argentina test matches. We didn’t put an actual level of acheievment on what we wanted – we didn’t say we wanted a gold medal – but we went in there thinking if we played well, we had a chance at the semifinal rounds."
But the coaching staff was also well aware that the largest sporting event in the world also carries with it a wealth of distractions and new experiences.
“At the Olympics, there is more that goes on, there are more distractions. We were also fully aware we had no experience at all in the Olympic arena with any of our athletes; we had sixteen brand-new Olympians. That was going to be difficult.”
The USA opened their Olympic competition against a familiar rival in Argentina. Ranked number two in the world, the 2004 bronze medalists and 2007 Pan American Games gold medalists boasted some of the top players in the world, including Luciana Aymar, four-time winner of the FIH’s “Player of the Year”.
Argentina striker Carla Rebecchi was in prime form early, scoring quickly for Las Leonas, tipping a penalty corner shot from Noel Barrionuevo into the corner of the goal. Six minutes later, she knocked in a field goal to put Argentina ahead 2-0 and looking to dominate. The USA appeared to be outclassed early.
“Argentina are always consistent performers,” said Bodimeade. “They were prepared right from the start for the first game.”
“We knew coming in we were going to have to be on our game from the beginning,” said team captain Kate Barber. “I think we were a little on the back foot to start, and Argentina made us pay for that.”
The Americans quickly regrouped. Keli Smith’s deflection from a Rachel Dawson shot on a penalty corner gave the USA their first goal in the 18th minute, as well as a boost of confidence.
“Our team is known to persist regardless of the time. I think we dug deep,” said Barber. “I think once we got into the flow of the game, with speed and intensity, we were able to string some passes together.”
The defense consolidated. Argentina forced 11 penalty corners and only converted the first.
“Our defense really held us together,” said Barber.
Goalkeeper Amy Tran, making her 100th international appearance, was impenetrable in the second half, denying several Argentina scoring opportunities with brilliant saves.
“Amy never needs any motivation to play,” said Bodimeade, “but I think the moment of her hundredth game and her first game in the Olympics and knowing she’s worked extremely hard to get to this point – it’s come to fruition today.”
In weather conditions that ranged from a dull drizzle to a steady downpour, the USA chipped away at the Argentine defense.
With six minutes remaining, Kelly Doton launched a shot from above the scoring circle. Angie Loy picked up the pass and scored the second goal for the U.S. to tie the game. The heads of several Argentina players dropped.
“It was a beautiful ball from Dote to Angie,” said midfielder Kayla Bashore. “I will never forget that.”`
“We had it won five minutes before the end of the match,” said Argentina team captain Magdalena Aicega. “The number of penalty corners and penetration into the attacking circle – we had more than the USA. That’s why I’m not happy. We made some mistakes in the defense.”
The USA had an opportunity to win the match in the closing seconds with a penalty corner goal, but Argentina successfully blocked the shot.
“I think the team realized they were really at the Olympics when they went two down against Argentina,” said Walsh. “To fight back to a draw; that was indicative that they knew they were at the Games and well and truly in the hunt.”
“[The performance] was a direct result of the occasion,” said Bodimeade. “Once we got into our game and realized we had to compete, I think our abilities came through and we came over top of them and were able to draw 2-2.”
The draw was a tremendous boost of both momentum and confidence for the USA. Showing the courage and tenacity that would become the team’s hallmarks, the Americans overcame Argentina’s early goals with a dramatic rally.
“I have no doubt that was enormous,” said Walsh. “It was faith in their own ability to be able to play against a team ranked number two in the world, to be able to come back. It showed the USA are a team to watch, to be noted on the international scene. That game in particular showed that the USA was going to be highly competitive.”
The USA faced a similar situation against Japan, ranked fifth in the world. The Japanese had opened competition in Beijing with a 2-1 victory over New Zealand.
As with Argentina, Japan and USA were familiar foes. The USA travelled to Japan in March for a series of test matches in preparation for the Olympic Games.
“We have played a number of times previously,” said Walsh. “Part of our development program involves facing the top teams in the world, and that includes Japan.”
“We played a lot of games against Japan in leading up to the Olympics,” said Bodimeade. In the eleven games in the series history, five were draws, the others were one-goal games. “This would indicate the two teams are relatively close.”
For the second straight game, the USA fell a goal down quickly. Mayumi Ono’s strike from the center of the field found two-time World Hockey All-Star Kaori Chiba lurking at the corner of the goal, and she deflected it in for the Japanese goal in the 12th minute.
With the lead in hand, the Japanese defense collapsed on the USA, swarming the attacking zones with defenders and intercepting American passes.
“We didn’t come out on the right foot in the first half,” said Barber. “We didn’t push forward and make things happen.”
In the second half, the USA showed increased intensity, pressing forward against the Japanese defense. Akemi Kato was sent off in the 45th minute, and the USA saw that as the opportunity to capitalize.
In the 58th minute, Kate Barber stole a trapped ball from the stick of Toshie Tsukui and blasted it toward the goal. Japan goalkeeper Ikuko Okamura seemed to have the shot stopped, but it slipped past her and dribbled slowly across the goal line, as if the roaring crowd was urging it along. Barber’s goal knotted the contest at 1-1.
As the U.S. attack amplified, scoring opportunities increased. Japanese defenders were now pressed to keep the Americans out of the scoring circle.
“The Americans ran very fast and pressed us,” said Japan Head Coach Seung Jin Yoo. “That’s why we didn’t perform very well in the second half.”
“What was surprising about Japan was how defensive they were,” said Walsh. “They played the whole game in a defensive fashion. Our problem was we weren’t able to take advantage, to step to another level against what was essentially a full eleven-player defensive front.”
Several strong passes from the outside of the circle whizzed past the mouth of the goal, but no USA attackers were in the scoring area to receive them. Several scoring changes eluded both teams, and the contest ended in a draw.
“I regret not being able to sustain the lead,” said Japan forward Sakae Morimoto. “We should have won the match. We are not happy with the results.”
The persistence and tenacity of the USA were two of its hallmarks, but the slow starts in both games were a definite concern.
“It was a frustration to not be able to get across the goal line, to put the Japanese away,” said Walsh. “We had a few opportunites in the first half to do that, and then it was frustrating because Japan went one up and then it was a matter of time running down.
“Eventually we scored, and it seemed like it was almost a relief to score and draw, rather to score and dominate the game. We really had a chance to win it.”
Coach Bodimeade agreed with Walsh’s assessment of the performance.
“I felt we had the better of Japan, and looking back, that was a missed opportunity for us,” said Bodimeade.
The early challenges were daunting, and, to a degree, the draws were satisfactory results. The international field hockey community began to take notice that the U.S. Olympic Team was indeed a formidable opponent. But as the tournament wore on, it became evident the potential for even more success was there. Several scoring chances had gone wanting in the first two games, so the Americans increased their focus and intensity.
The third match for the USA featured the defending champions, Germany. Germany was 2-0 against other Pool B competition, soundly defeating Great Britain and New Zealand and sitting in first place.
Resolved to attack from the start in their third contest, the U.S. surprised the 2004 gold medalists with a strong first half. The USA pressured Germany early, spending time on the German side of the pitch. The USA retained much of the possession, but German tackles disrupted the advancement.
Germany stepped up to match the Americans’ intensity. In the 20th minute, a German attack caused a frenzy at the goal line, highlighted by defender Lauren Crandall batting a point-blank German shot out of the air. Five shots on goal by Germany followed in the first half.
In the 27th minute, a streaking Angie Loy carried the ball into the scoring zone. A German defender gained control, but a clearing shot hit a lunging Keli Smith, coming from the opposite direction. The ball bounced into the clear for striker Tiffany Snow, who chipped the ball into the goal.
“We came out strong in the first half, and we were pretty pleased with that,” said Barber.
“We basically made the decision when we came out of the locker room to play from the word go,” said Snow.
But the more experienced German side were able to put together an offensive surge, along with some crafty stick work and dribbling, that briefly overwhelmed the USA. German forward Natascha Keller received a pass and ran free down the sideline, eluding the American defense. With a back-stick shot into the corner of the goal, Keller tied the game, 1-1.
“I think we were soft in not recognizing that the first goal we took against Germany was a legitimate goal,” said Walsh. “We just let it roll by.”
With the momentum of the first half goal behind them, Germany opened the second half with increased concentration, forcing intercepted passes and capturing mishandled balls.
Germany took the lead with a goal from striker Fanny Rinne in the 49th minute. Rinne launched a blast that Amy Tran tracked with a diving save, but the ball slipped underneath her armpit by mere inches. Team captain Marion Rodewald added a third goal.
The USA looked poised to jump back into contention with Angie Loy’s penalty corner goal in the 60th minute. The penalty corner strike hit the German goalkeeper Kristina Reynolds and as German defenders swarmed the loose ball, one cleared it directly into the path of Angie Loy.
“It was great to score,” said Loy. “The ball was cleared to me and I was just in the right spot at the right time.”
The late goal from Loy looked to swing momentum back to the USA, but a fourth goal from Germany’s fourth goal four minutes later from German striker Anke Kuehn sealed the victory.
Walsh observed that the performance from the Americans was better than the scoreline indicated.
“The USA were well and truly the equal of Germany. That particular game was a major game from the point of view of the entire experience,” said Walsh, recognizing that previous Olympic Games experience was a factor in the contest.
“Germany were the previous gold medalists, and I think there were several parts of that game were very clear indicators that they had a lot more playing experience, a lot more know-how of how to handle the Olympic experience,” said Walsh. “I think that helped to get them through.
“To me, they were pretty lucky to win that game given their performance.”
“We were playing well for a large portion of the match,” said Bodimeade. “The set plays were very strong. Then Germany scored on three penalty corners in a row. They had the opportunities and they made us pay for it. We fought hard, but I thought it was a great lesson to take advantage of the scoring changes as they come along.
“I don’t look at the Germany game as a missed opportunity; I look at it as a lesson learned.”
The USA put together the complete game for which they had been searching in the fouth contest, a dominant victory over the Black Sticks of New Zealand.
A stellar defensive performance from Rachel Dawson, Lauren Crandall, Caroline Nichols, Katelyn Falgowski and Kelly Doton was coupled by the Americans’ best offensive output. Striker Keli Smith scored two goals, as Kayla Bashore and Angie Loy each added one of their own to give the Americans a convincing win.
“As a collective unit, I think this was our best 70 minutes,” said Barber. “It always feels better when you’re on the winning side of things.”
After being plagued by slow starts the past three games, the USA seemed determined to attack early. Almost immediately, striker Keli Smith plowed through the New Zealand defense with deft stick work and scored the first goal to set the tone for the match.
“We knew it was important that we come out hard in the first five minutes,” said Smith.
The American assault continued, as the majority of play in the first fifteen minutes was spent on the New Zealand side of the pitch.
On a penalty corner in the 12th minute, Kelly Doton launched a pass to Angie Loy, who sat undefended at the edge of the goal. Loy chipped it in for a 2-0 U.S. lead.
“We just had a training run where we drilled penalty corners,” said Loy. “I think it paid off.”
New Zealand slowly regained their form from the Oceania Cup Championship. As action shifted to the American side of the field, goalkeeper Amy Tran made several glove and kick-saves on New Zealand’s six first half shots.
“Amy was unreal,” said Barber. “She made some brilliant saves back there.”
New Zealand opened the second half with a quick penalty corner, and striker’s Joanne Galletly sailed past Tran to tighten the score at 2-1.
“We knew coming out of halftime that New Zealand was going to come hard at us,” said Barber. “We knew that consciously as a group. When they came out and scored that goal, we all just looked at each other and regained our composure and stood tall.”
Six minutes later, Keli Smith scored her second goal of the day from a penalty corner, which featured a slick set of fake shots from the battery. Kayla Bashore eventually passed it into the middle, where Smith received the ball and deflected it past New Zealand goalkeeper Beth Jurgeleit.
“That was one we have been practicing for a long time,” said Smith. “We had great execution by the whole penalty corner battery.”
The USA added a fourth goal in the 47th minute on another penalty corner, as Bashore deflected a Doton pass into the net, a play similar to Smith’s second goal.
“We pushed forward and attacked,” said Barber. “We executed some really nice penalty corners.”
“We outplayed New Zealand,” said Walsh. “There was no doubt about that.”
“The girls seem to play their best when they’re in these situations. I was confident we were going to start better,” said Bodimeade. “Then we scored in the first thirty seconds. We prepared the way we thought we could and walked away with the game. It was a good indication when we do apply what we know, we can tear apart some of the best teams in the world.”
“It was an early morning game, and I thought the mental skills we had practiced really paid off,” said Kayla Bashore. “We did not let the effect of waking up at 5:00AM disturb our pre-game rituals, because to us it was another opportunity to compete and be successful.”
New Zealand would finish the Olympic Games winless, a tremendously disappointing finish for the Black Sticks, that saw the team lose four games by just one goal.
“It was only a few months ago New Zealand were ranked amongst the top six in the world,” said Bodimeade.
“New Zealand played the best series I’ve seen them play in a number of years,” said Walsh. “I think they were very unlucky early against Argentina. They started to play well, but didn’t get any results. Their situation in the end was disappointing, but their actual performance didn’t indicate a last-place finish at the Olympic Games.”
Headed into the final pool play match with Great Britain, the USA was still in contention for the semifinal rounds. They would need some help from New Zealand against Argentina, but first needed a victory of their own. Great Britain, with designs for the medal rounds themselves, established a solid defense early.
“Great Britain had an opportunity to move into the final and had everything to play for,” said Walsh.
The English defense stifled an American offense desperate for goals, as passes were picked off and the attacking flow was disrupted again and again.
Statistically, the United States controlled much of the contest against Great Britain, creating nine penalty corners, but could not score. The match ultimately ended in a scoreless draw.
“Great Britain was fortunate to come away with a draw in that game,” said Walsh. “The USA outplayed them in virtually all aspects of the game.”
“The United States is a very tough team, very physically tough,” said English midfielder Helen Richardson. “They threw everything at us.”
Great Britain had an opportunity to win the game on a penalty corner as time expired, but the Americans successfully defended the shot.
“I believe my best save was in the last ten minutes of the game,” said goalkeeper Amy Tran. “I was so pleased with it because I had not seen much action during the game, and making a big save like that was exciting.”
“We were going for the win,” said Keli Smith. “It is disappointing when you dominate a game statistically and just to do not put the ball in the cage.”
“The English conceded ten corners against the USA in the first half,” said Walsh. “They were completely outplayed both technically and tactically in that game. To have ten corners versus zero corners in the first half, shows how clear the USA domination was. We didn’t take those opportunities; you expect to score about four goals from ten corners, and we just weren’t able to convert. That showed how good Great Britain’s defense was.”
POOL B RECAP
The USA finished Pool B play with a record of one win, one loss, and three draws. The result placed the Americans solidly in fourth place.
Germany and Argentina, the top two ranked teams in Pool B, continued on to the semifinal contests with China and the Netherlands, respectively.
The 7/8 crossover match-up brought a contest with the fourth place team in Pool A, Spain. Spain finished play with a modest record of two wins and three losses, defeating Korea and South Africa both by one goal margins.
Spain followed a path to Beijing similar to the USA’s: Spain defeated Azerbaijan in April to claim victory in of one of the three WorldHockey Olympic Qualifiers.
Spain scored first with a penalty corner goal in the 8th minute from midfielder Ester Termens.
The USA answered Spain’s goal on a penalty corner in the 30th minute. A strike from Kelly Doton was stopped by the Spanish goalkeeper Maria Jesus Rosa, but midfielder Dana Sensenig was able to collect the rebound and score the goal.
“It was very exciting,” said Sensenig. “It was pure joy. I was glad to share it with my teammates.”
The second half saw several scoring opportunities for both teams. The USA attacked early, but Spanish goalkeeper Maria Jesus Rosa made several quick saves.
In the 59th minute, Keli Smith powered into the circle, flicking the ball to Angie Loy with an outstretched stick. Loy swiped at the ball and it slipped under Rosa for the 2-1 USA lead.
But the Spanish continued to pressure the American defense. With two minutes remaining, Spanish forward Raquel Heurtas cut through the American defense and launched a reverse shot. Goalkeeper Amy Tran made the glove save, but the ball rebounded into the goal upright and ricocheted into the goal for the Spanish equalizer.
Regulation time expired, and the first extra-time period did not produce a result. With just 90 seconds left in the second extra-time period before penalty strokes, Spain converted a penalty corner for the victory.
“We’re learning some hard lessons as the moment. It’s a process we need to go through, and we’re going to be better. But it’s a hard one to take along the way.”
“This team has taken a lot of punches along the way, and we continue to get up,” said Kate Barber. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played very well and gave it everything we could.”
The contest also marked defender Kelly Doton’s 100th international appearance.
The USA finished the 2008 Olympic Games in eighth place with a record of one win, two losses and two draws.
While the end result may have been a disappointment, the team showed tremendous heart and resiliency in the process, playing up to the level of their competition and shocking the experts.
“For our first Olympics, I’m extremely proud of our performance,” said Barber. “I am proud to stand beside these fifteen girls.”
After years of trial and turmoil, the perseverance of team captain Kate “Tiki” Barber was finally rewarded as she realized her dream of being an Olympian. Guiding a young team with competitive and maternal instincts, Barber’s determination inspired her teammates. She evolved into the spokeswoman of U.S. field hockey, the public face for the association - and set up an opportunity to meet her namesake, NBC’s Tiki Barber, on the set of the “Today Show.”
With NBC’s increased coverage, every U.S. field hockey game was televised – some even broadcast live. The increased visibility in the United States gave fans back home an opportunity to see the game played at its highest level, and to identify with the members of the U.S. team.
The publicity can only help stimulate growth and interest back in the United States.
The experience and achievements in Beijing are key to the success of USA Field Hockey in 2012 and beyond.
“Historically, six to nine players will retun” for the next Olympic Games, said Walsh. “That experience is huge. That’s one thing that will hold us in enormously good stead.
“We’ve also had success with our Junior National Team in the Junior Pan America Championship, and there are several players there already who are ready to step alongside members of the National Squad.”
The Women’s Junior National Team were the champions at the Junior Pan Am Championship in Mexico City last month, claiming an automatic spot in the 2009 BDO Junior World Cup, to be held next August in Boston.
“The pressure coming from underneath, combined with the experience and exposure, gradually brings more confidence. Then you get to a point where instead of drawing those games against Japan and Great Britain, you win them. We are shooting for the top six and the medal rounds in 2012 and certainly in 2016.”
“I think the Junior success at the Pan Am Cup is a huge achievement,” said Bodimeade. “It’s very important not just for the future of the women’s team, but for USA Field Hockey as well.
“People see those results and see what we’ve done on the back of the Olympic Games and take notice. We’re a program that’s going forward.”
The 2008 U.S. Olympic Team for Women’s Field Hockey succeeded in returning the USA to the Olympic Games and performing beyond expectations through teamwork, courage and tenacity.
The experience and achievements in Beijing are the keys to the future success of USA Field Hockey in the 2012 and beyond.