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2012 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Field Hockey

By Michael Rushton, Olympics Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With nearly half of the athletes named to the U.S. women's field hockey team owning Olympic experience, captain Lauren Crandall and the rest of the squad are hoping to make some major noise in London.

Unfortunately, the men's team won't even get a chance to make a whimper.

While the women's team will be looking to rebound from a disappointing eighth- place finish in 2008 in Beijing, the men's team opted not to even play in the Olympic Qualification Tournament held in New Delhi, India, back in February. Instead, with a host of players injured or unavailable to compete, the club will continue to focus on grooming players for future events in a sport that the men haven't qualified for in a non-hosting year since 1948 in Melbourne.

The American men own an all-time Olympic record of 0-28-1 and have medaled only once, a bronze in 1932.

"The decision has been made strategically with the very best outcome for our program in mind. Unavailability of many of the senior players has left the men's program in a position where our best assembled team has a performance potential well below that required to be competitive in a tournament of this caliber," said Terry Walsh, technical director of high performance, in a release announcing the decision not to attend the qualifying tournament.

"I have had significant discussions with our men's national team coach, Chris Clements, and we are in agreement that this course of action will be in the best interest of the long term progress of our national program."

The women went to Beijing hoping to grab just the team's second all-time medal after a bronze in 1984, but they struggled to a 1-1-3 record in pool play to finish fourth in Pool B. The only team the Americans managed to beat was New Zealand, but in their defense it marked the first time they had qualified for Olympic play since an automatic bid in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The U.S. will look to build off that experience as seven of the 16 players selected to the 2012 squad participated in the Beijing Games.

"One of the things that we have been able to achieve since Beijing is increasing the depth and ability of the entire squad," said head coach Lee Bodimeade.

"We had 16 rookies at the Olympics in 2008 and now to have seven athletes with that experience on the Olympic Team puts us in a much better position heading to London."

Among those making their returns include defenders Crandall and Caroline Nichols, midfielders Kayla Bashore Smedley, Katelyn Falgowski and Rachel Dawson as well as striker Keli Smith Puzo, the oldest member of the team who returned to the national team in December after giving berth to her second child just months prior. Smith-Puzo's 169 caps trail only Crandall (173) and Dawson (181) for the most on the team.

Rounding out the returning players is goalkeeper Amy Swensen, who was still known by her maiden name of Tran during the 2008 Games.

Falgowski is one player to watch as she was also a member of the gold-medal winning team at the 2011 Pan Am Games by knocking off Argentina, the reigning world champs and 2008 bronze medal winners. Falgowski, a 2011 All-Star and nominee for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Young Player of the Year award, suffered a knee injury during those games that was later revealed to be a torn ACL, but is ready to go in London.

So are a pair of sisters in Julia and Katie Reinprecht, who help make up the solid defensive unit. Julia is the youngest player on the team at 20 years old.

The U.S. won't have to wait too long to battle Argentina again after taking on the squad in a four-game test preparation series prior to the games. The U.S. and Argentina are both in Pool B along with Germany and Australia.

Argentina's biggest threat is seven-time World Hockey Player of the Year and three-time Olympic medalist Luciana Aymar, who won a silver in 2000 at Sydney before consecutive bronze finishes.

Regarded as the best player in the world, Aymar is also known as "La Maga" (The Magician) and these Olympics are expected to be her last.

Leading Pool A is the powerhouse Netherlands, which captured its first gold in this event since 1984 by beating China 2-0 in Beijing. That medal came four years after the Dutch lost to Germany in the 2004 gold medal game.

Among those joining the Netherlands in Pool A are host Great Britain as well as China.

Rounding out the rest of the 12-team field are Pool A participants Korea, Japan and Belgium, while New Zealand, and South Africa make up the rest of the other side.

On the men's side, hosting Great Britain could also be a factor in Pool A along with favorite Australia.

Five-time World Hockey Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer is hoping to lead the Aussies to a gold medal, something he was able to do in 2004 in Athens with an overtime winner. Australia captured bronze four years ago, beating the Dutch, who are in Pool B.

Topping Pool B is Germany, which knocked off Spain 1-0 to win the gold in Beijing for the first time since 1992.

Also set to play in London are Pool A residents Spain, Pakistan, Argentina and South Africa. The rest of Pool B on the men's side includes the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, India and Belgium.

Neither Canadian teams qualified for play in London.

The playing surfaces in London will have a different look with blue pitches and pink run-off areas for the first time at an Olympics.

The London Organizing Committee opted to differ from the standard green pitch, hoping the new colors will offer a better contrast for the white ball and lines.

Competition runs through most of the games, with the genders playing on alternating days starting with the women on July 29. The men close out the event with medal games on Aug. 11, one day after the female medals are decided.

07/04 17:34:28 ET


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