Olympic Games / Olympic Countdown - Hockey: Gold standard on the move

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The Independent Online
GREAT BRITAIN'S men and Australia's women have arrived in Barcelona as defending Olympic champions knowing it will probably be harder to retain their titles than it was to win them and that the dreams that came true in the Songnam Stadium just under four years ago may not repeat themselves.

All things are possible and do not forget that India, winners of the Olympic crown on eight occasions, won six successive titles. But then hockey has moved on and, as a result of the annual Champions Trophy and other major tournaments, the top teams have moved closer together.

Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, New Zealand and the host nation, Spain, might all complete the first double, though in reality possibly only the Australians and Germans could achieve the feat.

A first gold for Australia's men - a high-scoring team of tremendous talent led by the brilliant Warren Birmingham - is long overdue. But they have been troubled by a crop of injuries during the build-up and may once again have to take a back seat.

The Australian women, although beaten by Britain 2-1 at Reading in March, have the experience of nine Seoul gold medallists and, in the 18-year-old Alyson Annan, a player of exceptional flair who could become one of the world's best goalscorers.

Peter Freitag, the former Great Britain international and now assistant coach to the women, is well aware of the size of their task. He said: 'Results are being decided by just one goal so we are going to Barcelona under no illusions. It is going to be a very tough challenge.'

Paul Lissek, one of the world's outstanding coaches who laid the foundations of the present German women's side before moving across to take care of the men, may well have established the potential for Germany to win both medals.

The women, winners of the Auckland Olympic qualifier last October, may lack a little experience but have a solid defence, and the German men, silver medallists in Los Angeles and Seoul, have every right to think that Barcelona must be their year.

Britain's men have served us well in recent years, bronze in Los Angeles and then that gold in Seoul. They have not been particularly successful since that triumph four years ago, but have recently found in Rob Hill a penalty corner striker able to hold his own in the best of company. If Hill can deliver in the anticipated heat and humidity of Terrassa, where the hockey is being played, they have a fighting chance.

The British women came fourth in Seoul on their Olympic debut. Although seeded seventh of eight this time, they certainly have a chance of reaching the semi-finals and, providing they adopt an offensive approach, could return with a medal.

The Dutch have been the most consistently successful team but their men, despite being the world champions, have not always lived up to their promise. As for the women, they have received a bitter blow through the loss of the sweeper Lisanne Lejeune with a broken collar-bone. So, while both Dutch sides may step on to the rostrum, I doubt if it will be for gold.

Those former giants of Olympic hockey, India and Pakistan, are certainly back in the reckoning, with Pakistan quite likely to win a fourth men's title.

GREAT BRITAIN SQUADS: Men: R Clift (capt), S Batchelor, J Lee, D Luckes (East Grinstead), J Potter, P Bolland, R Thompson (Hounslow), R Garcia, S Rowlands, D Williams, R Hill (Havant), J Shaw (Southgate), S Kerly (Canterbury), J Laslett (Teddington), S Nicklin (Slough), S Martin (Holywood '87). Manager: B Cotton. Coach: N Hughes.

Women: J Atkins (Bradford), L Bayliss, J Sixsmith (Sutton Coldfield), K Brown, J Thompson (Slough), V Dixon, S Lister (Ipswich), K Johnson, M Nevill (Leicester, capt), T Miller (Clifton), M Nicholls (Ealing), H Morgan (Swansea), J McWilliams (Randalstown), W Fraser, S Fraser, A Ramsay (Glasgow Western). Manager: D Batterham. Coach: D Hay.