Olympic field hockey preview
The third oldest Olympic team sport (behind soccer and water polo), field hockey made its debut in London in 1908, when the English thoroughly dominated the field, outscoring their opponents, 24-3.
The landscape has shifted dramatically over the last 104 years (including the addition of a women's tournament in 1980), but England, whose men's and women's teams are ranked fourth, might look to bring it all full circle this summer in the two-week tournament.
The U.S. men, ranked 24th internationally, pulled out of an Olympic qualifying tournament in January, erasing any hope of sending a team to London. Not that it would seem to matter, at least historically. The U.S. men are 0-26-3 all time at the Olympics.
The women, on the other hand, are hopeful of their prospects in London, but a medal will be a reach for the team, which finished eighth in Beijing. Currently ranked 10th in the world, the U.S. women definitely have upset potential -- they stunned Argentina, then-world champs, at Pan-Ams last October to earn their Olympic berth -- but they will have to wade through a talent-heavy pool that includes Argentina, Germany (2004 gold medalists) and Australia (2000 gold medalists). The key will be in the U.S.' defense, led by captain Lauren Crandall and goalkeeper Amy (Tran) Swensen.
At last year's Pan-Am final, it was the U.S. midfielder's dogged play that helped silence the Argentine superstar and helped the Americans to a 4-2 victory. Expect that storyline to continue in London, where Aymar will have a chance to redeem herself as the U.S. and Argentina square off on July 31. Falgowski, a UNC graduate and 2011 NCAA national player of the year, however, won't make it easy for her.
Who doesn't love an underdog or a hometown favorite? In this case, England's field hockey teams might represent both. Though podium finishes are well within reach for both the men's and women's teams, the real goal for the British teams is a gold on home soil. It would be the women's first ever and the men's first since 1988.
Since the 1980 Games, field hockey has been played on artificial turf, and this year, the London organizers opted for a color correction, going with cobalt blue turf to better help spectators to see the ball. The U.S. trained on the campus of UVa because it installed a blue turf field last summer. ... U.S. striker Keli Smith-Puzo will play on her second Olympic team, just 11 months after having her second baby.