Few can argue that when it comes to the team tournaments at the Olympic Games, little can match the excitement and level of competition demonstrated by field hockey. The game itself continues to expand and grow in popularity around the world, both amongst men and women, which means that an increasing number of nations are making their presence felt on the world stage.
Of course, one of the biggest stages for international hockey is the Summer Olympics, typically held every four years. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in Japan, let’s delve into the historic past, before turning our attention towards which teams could be the leading contenders for medals.
Field Hockey Olympic History
The first appearance of field hockey was at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, albeit with only six men’s teams competing. They were England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany and France, with all games played at the White City Stadium. England won gold, Ireland won silver, while Scotland and Wales shared bronze.
While the sport didn’t feature at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, men’s hockey once against featured at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Absent from the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France, men’s field hockey has consistently appeared at every subsequent Summer Games, since the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the USA, the men’s tournament has featured 12 teams.
A captain recalls Zimbabwe’s golden moment at the 1980 Olympics.
— International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) July 31, 2020
Women’s field hockey made its debut at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Soviet Union, where one pool of six teams competed. Zimbabwe emerged as the surprise gold medallists, while Czechoslovakia claimed silver and the Soviet Union the bronze. Qualifying teams increased from six to eight teams for the 1988 Olympics, then 12 since the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China.
In men’s field hockey, India is by far the most successful team, having appeared on the medals podium at every Olympic tournament, winning the gold medal eight times, silver once and bronze twice. Germany have won gold four times, followed by Pakistan and Great Britain with three golds apiece. They are followed by Netherlands with two golds, then Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, with one gold medal apiece.
Dominance of women’s field hockey at the Olympics is shared by Netherlands and Australia, each with three gold medals apiece, although the Netherlands have also won silver twice and bronze three times. They are followed by Germany, Great Britain and of course, Zimbabwe, who have each won Olympic gold once.
Olympic Field Hockey Favourites
After the men’s field hockey team from Argentina were the surprise package at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, not only making the podium for the first time but winning the gold, they will undoubtedly be among the favorites to repeat their success. Nevertheless, the Germany team should never be underestimated, with more medal podium appearances than any other country in Olympic history.
Beyond the Argentine and German teams, 2016 silver medallists Belgium currently top the FIH men’s rankings, followed by Australia and Netherlands, while India should never be taken for granted, given their historic record of success. Great Britain will be aiming for their first gold since 1988, with Spain full of potential to be the surprise team at the tournament in Tokyo.
Great Britain were the strongest women’s field hockey site at the 2016 Olympics, winning the gold medal after a penalty shootout against Netherlands, who had won consecutive gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Both will be amongst the favorites again, closely followed by traditionally powerful teams from Netherlands and Germany.
Aiming to emulate the Olympic success of their male counterparts in 2016, the Argentina women’s field hockey team will head to Tokyo full of confidence, having climbed up to second in the most recent FIH Women’s World Rankings. That said, look out for the New Zealand team, who have finished fourth at the last two Olympic tournaments. When they arrive in Tokyo, the “Blacksticks” will definitely be shooting for a place on the podium.
The Next Olympic Tournament Groups
Men’s Group Stage
Group A: Argentina, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Spain.
Group B: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, South Africa.
Women’s Group Stage
Group A: Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa.
Group B: Argentina, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Spain.
The top four nations from each group qualify for the Quarter-Finals, with those teams aiming to reach the Semi-Finals and Finals, which ultimately decide the medal positions. All matches will be hosted at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo, between 24 July and 6 August 2021.
There’s no doubt that fans will be treated to another exciting and thrilling Olympic hockey tournament, packed with action and powerful gameplay. Given the strong competition between all the nations, at this stage, we can only guess which teams will be basking in the golden glow of tournament success. Good luck to all the competitors.