OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Back to basics is message for the British: Bill Colwill on how Spain and Germany made gains in the gold market in the hockey tournament

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The Independent Online
SPAIN, making their first Olympic appearance, gained the women's gold medal for hockey after an exciting 2-1 victory in extra time in the final against Germany. It was one of many surprises in the tournament.

Britain took the bronze in an equally exciting 4-3 win, again in extra time, against South Korea, the Seoul silver medallists, twice coming from behind with two goals from Jane Sixsmith, a Kath Johnson penalty stroke and a winning penalty corner lob from Sue Fraser. In a gritty team performance, Sixsmith again showed world class, Wendy Fraser worked like a Trojan, and Sandie Lister dominated the midfield.

Germany, the runners-up at the last two Olympics, took the men's title with a powerful, disciplined performance to beat Australia 2-1. Both goals came from Michael Hilgers, a discarded winger converted in desperation to centre-forward by the German coach, Paul Lissek.

The Netherlands, after leading Pakistan 2-0 at the interval, became complacent and went 4-2 down before conceding the bronze after closing the gap to 4-3. And so the Dutch, who went into the Games as men's and women's world champions, finished without a medal.

The success of the Spanish women - who finished sixth in the European Cup last year in Brussels, where England took the gold - stems largely from the commitment made by the players during recent months. The squad has been together since the end of February in Terrassa, the longest session in a training camp anyone in hockey can recall.

The improvement in their basic skills during this period has been unbelievable and it is probably in this area that the British team have been disappointing.

The first touch is seldom as accurate as it should be, while hard and accurate hitting leaves much to be desired. All too often, either the ball goes to an opponent or the receiver fails to stop it cleanly.

But it is by no means all doom and despondency. The decision to take Sixsmith and Russell Garcia to Seoul four years ago has paid great dividends. Jason Laslett has shown he is one of the best centre- halves in the game, while Simon Nicklin and Mandy Nichols look likely in the coming years to repay handsomely the Barcelona investment.

The Olympic result has again shown that a blend of experience and youth, plus a couple of players of exceptional flair, are necessary to win medals and that success does not come overnight.

For Britain's coach, Dennis Hay, often much criticised for his negative approach, the bronze medal came in his 110th game in charge during the past seven and a half years. Throughout, he has built on sound defensive play, teamwork and loyalty.

He confirmed after the Korean game that he intends to retire from the game after a 28-year involvement. His experience, dedication and determination will be greatly missed.

With regard to the future, the first major steps towards rebuilding both British squads will commence at the end of the month with the European Under-21 Nations Cups - in Edinburgh for the women and Vught, the Netherlands, for the men. For Nicklin, who will be expected to play a major role in the England side, his summer vacation from Bath University will have been something special.

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