Both the men’s and the women’s teams had to come through knockout qualification at Lee Valley in London, to seal their places in the upcoming Olympics: the men overcoming Malaysia comfortably with an aggregate 9-3 victory over two legs and the women’s side beating a plucky Chile squad that made the quarter finals of the Pan-American games, winning 5-1 on aggregate.
After the success of the women’s team at the Rio Olympics there will be much excitement over whether they mount a serious challenge to defend their title in Tokyo. 2016 was an unforgettable year for women’s hockey in the UK and was their first-ever gold medal in the competition. It would be beyond most people’s expectations for them to win back-to-back gold medals, but, as we know, competitions can always throw up surprises. SBO and fellow bookmakers have seen stranger things happen in sport like the moment in which a man bet in 2003 that R. Federer will win Wimbledon 7 times until 2019 and in 2012 he already got 7; the odds were 66/1 against this. Furthermore, another similar situation happened in F1 where a man bet for a boy, who watched at a go-karts, that he will win Formula one at the age of 25; the odds were 500/1 against him. This boy was Lewis Hamilton, 6 times Champion. Now, who would bet against it happening here?
The Men’s side have won Olympic gold twice-over in their history; the latest and most recent medal of any sort, being in Seoul 1988. They will consider another medal overdue and be desperate to mount a challenge and write their names into the history books, after their fairly miserable 9thplace finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Their squad will take heart and inspiration from the outstanding victory of the women’s side last time out.
The women’s team have seen many of the gold-medal-winning side retire; in fact, there are only 7 members of the winning side still in the squad. The loss of several senior players, including the likes of Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, Sophie Bray and Crista Cullen will be a blow to the side. The retirement of all-time leading scorer Alex Danson (after a head injury) will surely be the biggest loss, although manager Mark Hager believes that if the side can find that extra 10-20% of improvement, they could be in with a chance of winning a medal.
The women’s side find themselves in a group with Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa and India and should face the toughest competition from the European sides. They will face the team they beat in the final in 2016, which will be a mouth-watering clash. They will think themselves lucky to be on the other side of the draw from both Argentina and Australia, but if they qualify in the group, they are likely to find themselves up against them in the knockout stages.
The men’s side will be looking to take things step-by-step at the next Olympics and their first concern will be getting out of the group stages, a feat they didn’t manage last time round. Scotland’s Alan Forsyth bagged a hat-trick in the qualifying round and passed 100 international goals in the process. He missed out on making the Rio Olympic squad and made it clear he will do his best to cement his place in the upcoming games, citing his previous omission as spurring motivation. Sam Ward also bagged a brace in qualifiers and Britain will be hoping that they can keep their best players firing, going into the Olympics.
The main challenge in their group will come in the form of Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany and, if they make it through that, they will potentially come up against the likes of India, Argentina and Australia; any one of them would provide stiff opposition on their day.
We will have to wait until July next year to see how both sides are shaping up. But, the most important thing is that both have successfully qualified and thrown their names into the hat. The magic of the Olympics can produce anything, as we have already seen, and all it takes is some form and perhaps a little luck along the way, to get yourself onto the podium.