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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.

SPORTS EXPLAINERS: FIELD HOCKEY

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.

Men

Jamie Dwyer, Australia: The top-ranked Australians haven't finished off the Olympic podium since 1988, and much of their recent success is due to the 33-year-old midfield/striker Dwyer. The five-time FIH player of the year netted the gold medal-winning overtime goal in 2004, but he and the rest of the Kookaburras are still haunted by the two-goal lead they gave up to Spain in the 2008 semis.

Teun de Nooijer, Netherlands: After being sidelined with injuries for eight weeks, the two-time gold medalist returned to the pitch last month and was subsequently named to his fifth Olympic team. At 36, the three-time player of the year may be losing a step, but his hockey intelligence and unparalleled experience make up for an aging body.

Women

Luciana Aymar, Argentina: In her homeland, she's often called the Maradona of field hockey, but soccer legend Diego Maradona could've only dreamed of so much individual success. Aymar, the 34-year-old midfielder, has been named world player of the year a jaw-dropping seven times, and London will mark her fourth -- and likely final -- Olympic games, and thus, her last shot at a gold medal (she has two bronze and a silver).

Maartje Paumen, Netherlands: The top-ranked Dutch team is led by the defending world player of the year Paumen, a 27-year-old midfielder, who turned heads with a record 11 goals in her Olympic debut in Beijing. She scored in every game but the final in 2008, and now, as the team's captain, looks to bring home back-to-back golds.

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.

Luciana Aymar v. Katelyn Falgowski

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.

Aug. 10: Women

Aug. 11: Men

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