The hunters have become the hunted as the Aussie men’s hockey team head to Beijing to defend their Olympic title.
By Sarah-Lucy Rice, AOC
The Athens Olympic champions are well placed in the Beijing draw but coach Barry Dancer has pinpointed four nations capable of pushing Australia in the medal rounds.
“In the situation we face with the 12 teams, probably ourselves, Germany, Holland and Spain…along with Korea, are the five teams that set themselves apart from the rest and would be teams to get to the medal rounds,” Dancer said.
Australia will play The Netherlands, Pakistan, Great Britain, Canada and South Africa in their group.
“The only problem with an easier draw is if you stuff up one game you could miss the semi finals,” Australian player Bevan George said. “A team like Pakistan - if they beat us they are more than likely to win the rest of their games. We’ve still got to go out there and win everything.”
The other side of the draw comprises Germany, Spain, South Korea, New Zealand, Belgium and host nation China.
Athens gold medalist George, who will retire after Beijing to become a full-time farmer, believes Australian hockey’s high performance program is the fundamental ingredient to their ongoing success.
“If we have one or two guys out with injuries we’re able to fill the hole because the next guy is just as capable,” he said.
The 2008 team will be comprised of eight Olympic debutants and eight Athens gold medalists.
“There will be more youth in the team this time around,” said two-time Olympian Matthew Wells.
“In terms of debutants and ones to look out for – you have [Eddie] Ockenden and Des Abbott upfront…coming through the midfield you have Fergus Kavanagh and at the back you have David Guest and Kiel Brown,” he said.
Back-to-back Olympic gold is the team’s ambition and Dancer believes that their recent international performances have given them confidence and belief for Beijing.
The Aussies won the prestigious 2008 Champions Trophy in The Netherlands and in August 2007 they clinched the Good Luck Beijing Olympic test event crown.
The next phase of preparation for them will be crucial and Dancer is getting the team mentally prepared as well as physically.
“Not pre-judging, knowing how difficult it will be and knowing the landscape in Beijing will be different to what we have faced so far this year, therefore making every effort in the next three to four weeks to make sure that we’re the best prepared team,” Dancer said.
To facilitate team bonding George invited the men’s squad to his parents’ farm in rural Western Australia for a weekend getaway. They camped out in the sheering shed and went on a treasure hunt around the farm at night and played 23-cricket the following day.
“You could just tell the difference in the group after that weekend. There were no coaches or outside staff. It was just a big group of guys around a fire having a couple of quiet ones,” George said.
Leading into Beijing, the team knows they are capable and believe Dancer gives them the edge over their rivals because he is very knowledgeable, he does his homework on their opponents and he understands the emotions of the game from being player himself.
“He is a pretty unique sort of guy.” Wells said. “I’d say he is hockey 24/7 – I don’t know how his wife puts up with him. It must drive her nuts.”
The men’s hockey section of the 2008 Australian Olympic team:
Desmond Abbott, Travis Brooks, Kiel Brown, Liam De Young, Luke Doerner, Jamie Dwyer, Bevan George, David Guest, Robert Hammond, Fergus Kavanagh, Mark Knowles, Stephen Lambert, Eli Matheson, Edward Ockenden, Grant Schubert, Matthew Wells.
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