Forgive me for going on about the Olympic Games once again, but it has been an exceptional year for our athletes and one that should be celebrated while we still remember it. However, I’m not here to celebrate it this time, I’m writing in opposition to the 2012-2013 season – ie. the post-Olympic slump.
It’s a long time between each staging of the Olympics and a four-year “Olympiad” may seem like a lifetime to sportsmen that missed out on the ultimate prize in the previous Games. It also gives them the chance to train hard, ironing out any mistakes that cost them the gold medal. World Cups and World Championships come and go, with rivalries renewed and some glory bestowed on the winners. But, all of that is for nought if you don’t come away as Olympic champion in 2016. So, what do you do immediately after the crushing defeat in front of billions of people? Either go on holiday or start training, of course. For England’s hockey team, they’re one of the groups doing a bit of both.
“International hockey players are not made overnight. It’s about experiencing these sorts of tournaments. I’m impressed with the way some of the new guys have acquitted themselves but as a team we are not physically ready for a tournament such as this. There are definitely some green shoots but there is plenty of work ahead of us.” Head Coach Jason Lee attempted to explain why his young charges, coming off the back of a successful Olympics that gave Great Britain a bronze medal on home soil, performed so poorly in the 2012 Champions Trophy, a competition containing eight of the highest-ranked hockey nations. To back them up, I think of five pretty major reasons why England flopped. Or excuses.
* This is England, not Great Britain. The entire nation may have entered the 2011 Champions Trophy, but it was just England that were nominated to represent us in this competition. Not that that should have mattered, as England were (and somehow still are) ranked fourth in the world. They came up against teams ranked some way lower than themselves, but were unable to bat them off.
* The competition was in Melbourne, not London. Like performing in front of thousands of fans in the Riverbank Arena spurred our men and women on, a home crowd helped Australia claim the Champions Trophy title for the fifth consecutive win. With many of our players’ highest experience being in the English Premier Division, it’s of little surprise that we weren’t ready for the conditions.
* England took part in the International Super Series Hockey 9s in Perth just before the competition. It’s a flimsy excuse, though, as so did other teams.
* Half of the regulars are on holiday. The others are youthful, inexperienced and, as Jason Lee admitted, “not ready for a tournament such as this”.
* These aren’t the Olympic Games. They’re not even the Commonwealth Games, where England finished fourth to their tormentors here, New Zealand. It could be argued that their drive and motivation just isn’t there for yet another international tournament.
England may not have been at the races this year, but they were still able to get a 4-1 result against Germany and a 1-1 draw against New Zealand in the group stage. Their inability to eke out any more results, though, including a 0-4 trouncing at the hands of Belgium, seems to have been costly for future success. Finishing last in the top-level “Champions” event means England are likely to be participating in the Champions Challenge next year, the Europa League of international hockey. They will be replaced by Argentina, winners of the 2012 event, held in – of course – Argentina.
It could have been so different, with goals from Reading’s Darren Cheeseman and captain Barry Middleton giving England the lead for a brief period. In the end, it was a terrible backpass in the first period and iffy defending for the “Black Sticks”’ second goal that cost England, although this can be rectified. Unfortunately, it looks like it might take a long time before England, thus some of Great Britain, are ready for the Olympics. Good job we’ve got four years, eh?