The Calvin Report: Kookaburras plunge the knife in
Britain's men fail to emulate the women by taking a bronze medal as they are defeated 3-1 by Australia
Sunday 12 August 2012
Jason Lee held the most emotionally charged team meeting of his life yesterday morning. He could not contain his tears as he read out a message from a group of disadvantaged teenagers, who put an Olympic medal into its proper perspective.
Thirty children from the sink estates of Tower Hamlets, who have formed themselves into a group named the Fre Flyers, have been mentored by Lee and his GB men's hockey squad over the past two years.
"Thank you for sharing your lives and values with us" they wrote. "Thank you for teaching us about teamwork, respect, and never giving up. Thank you for staying together, and always striving to be the best."
No further team talk was required. Lee successfully lobbied officials to get the children tickets for the bronze medal match against Australia, whose 3-1 win lacked the traumatic impact of Thursday's 9-2 semi-final defeat by Holland.
Everyone dies a little when they lose at the sharp end of an Olympic tournament. Lee's men had a mere 44 hours to recover from that Dutch defeat, which appeared to unravel seven years' work.
No one knew better the challenge facing them than the man who ultimately inflicted further pain, Australian coach Ric Charlesworth.
He is the Renaissance Man of modern sport, having punctuated a stellar coaching career, in hockey, cricket and Australian Rules football, with spells as a politician and surgeon.
Charlesworth admitted: "I feel for the GB team. The interesting thing about coaching is that you have to trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled."
Charlesworth empathised with Lee's task. The GB squad, conditioned to understanding their responsibilities to one another, and the sport as a whole, had nowhere to hide.
"There was a lot of grieving, which we encouraged out into the open as quickly as possible," their performance director David Faulkner said. "We had to confront it, manage it, and change the mind set."
They were helped by the redemptive performance of Britain's women, whose bronze medal, won at New Zealand's expense on Friday evening, helped erase their own soul-scouring memories of semi-final failure.
That medal eased fears funding would be cut, despite Britain's men and women living up to their ranking, as the world's fourth best teams. It was the women's first medal since 1992, reward for sacrifices made in the aftermath of bitterness and bankruptcy.
"That win was absolutely huge for our sport," Faulkner acknowledged. "We have been on a starvation diet for too long. It is absolutely vital that we use that, to ensure we have a legacy, in terms of performance, from these Games."
The underlying emotions were put into sharp perspective by the women's coach, Danny Kerry.
"I'm working hard to hold it together," he admitted. "That medal represents seven and a half years of my life, so there is just a deep sense of contentment.
"Our vision should be to be inspired by the likes of cycling, rowing and sailing. If you think small you only ever achieve small.
"I will probably upset a few people but I think women's hockey can be - and should be - the premier female team sport in the country.
"People who succeed in life are the people who keep coming back. I just knew we would be good to go. That comes from a lot of tough work. There is no shortcut for that."
The narrative of yesterday's game generated an anxious atmosphere. At times the capacity 15,000 crowd were cocooned in such sympathetic silence that only the hum of an overhead helicopter competed with the yelps of the players.
There was a single sop to those of us who believe in the colonial conventions of theatrical rivalry: a nose-to-nose confrontation between GB captain Barry Middleton and Australia defender Chris Ciriello.
The comedy value of the exchange – which resembled a scrawny civil servant being menaced by a surf dude – hid the fact that Australia had their own demons to address. Charlesworth, whose CV includes two Olympic titles, as coach to the Australian women's team, conceded he was "devastated" to miss out on another gold medal.
His side dominated possession, before taking the lead halfway through the first half, with a goal of punishing simplicity from Simon Orchard, who shot into the top left hand corner of the net from just inside the D.
Britain could have succumbed, but equalised seven minutes from half-time, when Iain Lewers converted a clever penalty corner routine.
Set pieces tend to be decisive in hockey. GB survived three short corners before Jamie Dwyer scrambled in a deflected shot by Matt Gohdes 11 minutes into the second half.
Goalkeeper James Fair made a string of spectacular saves, but there was a sense of inevitability to the game's telling goal, 12 minutes from time. He could only deflect a driving shot by Dwyer to Kieran Govers.
The search for compensations went beyond the usual litany of tall tales and strategic excuses. Hockey has sold itself well at the London Games, and is determined not to repeat past mistakes.
"That team meeting told me everything," Faulkner admitted. "We've been in some dark places over the last couple of days, but we will not waste this opportunity, like we did in 1988 and 1992."
Whether Lee stays around for Rio is a moot point. He looked drained yesterday evening. "To be honest, I've found this very challenging," he said. "I have given my heart and soul to coaching. There have been tears of joy, but they've been lost in an ocean of heartache."
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