“Devastated, heart-broken, sad, lost for words, empty.” Ashleigh Nelson sums up the feelings of the ever-growing number of sides to miss out on their targets at the Olympic hockey tournament.
They are the opening lines of an extremely eloquent post on her personal website, one that encapsulates the life of these athletes. The passion and heartbreak has become particularly intense in the past in the last few days of action as coaches and players vent their emotions after, sometimes, years of keeping in check in pursuit of five-ringed glory.
Among Nelson’s laments is “growing up we are often told that ‘hard work pays off’, but when you come away from an Olympics empty-handed after years of work, life doesn’t seem fair or just.”
Unfortunately, unstinting training and personal sacrifice is a pre-requisite at this level and the margins at the ultra-elite phase are defined by a combination of this hard work and an extra level of talent.
Many of this morning’s newspapers in London are talking money and how government funding has powered Great Britain’s gold rush. For team sports and the British women last night, however, the money has helped create a really strong infrastructure and a highly functional side, giving them the best opportunity to succeed.
But their shortcoming was a lack of the extra-special, the Luciana Aymar figure to ghost away from a triple-team tackle or Carla Rebecchi’s truly incredible evasion of Beth Storry for goal number two.
Overall, the British should look back on that tie with serious frustration against an Argentina side that were there for the taking. The hosts, very similar to their loss to China, ran down dark corridors where Noel Barrionuevo and the amazing seven stone teenager Florencia Habif nicked the ball, making minimal chances from a huge possessional advantage.
Danny Kerry was really proud of how his team performed and captain Kate Walsh became one of the stories of the Games when she returned to action just six days after breaking her jaw.
Kerry says of the performance: “We were the dominant side. I thought Argentina offered little other than a bit of a dribble and we outplayed them. The reason for not winning was the half-chances and not converting the opportunity, but I couldn’t have asked more from the girls.”
Of course there was a gripe; the move that allowed Aymar jink free on the left touch-line was contentious with third party obstruction cited.
“Tonight and tomorrow night are probably the biggest in hockey’s sporting four years; the biggest audience on television, sixteen thousand spectators are confused and disappointed. Questions need to be asked. The obvious infringement; the millions on tv knew, 16,000 in the crowd, the 22 players on the pitch. Everyone knew. It’s a shame because this is one of the biggest nights in our sport.
“This rule was discussed at the last congress and we were assured that common sense would prevail, and it didn’t and a goal was scored that shouldn’t have.”
Simon Briggs of the Daily Telegraph duly asked what infringement he was referring too, suggesting the layman might not have known quite what the injustice was.
Nonetheless, it was part of a venting process that is manifesting itself in a number of different ways in the required post-match press conferences.
Spanish men’s coach Daniel Martin successfully argued to the FIH that his quotes had been incorrectly translated but there was a large dollop of invective in the wake of his side’s exit at the hands of GB.
Twice his side were awarded penalty corners in the closing minute. GB, who had earlier lost their video referral, surrounded umpire John Wright – something for which captain Barry Middleton received a reprimand but no formal sanction. Their vehemence on both occasions did lead to a consultation and the right decision being made and the corners chalked off.
The manner, though, of how this played out stuck in Martin’s craw with accusations of favouritism and his words appeared to call for FIH president Leandro Negre (a Spaniard) to publicly address the situation.
Stakes are high and Spain has had an emotional tournament, losing their talisman Santi Freixa and Pol Amat to injury. That they came so close to a semi-final berth was remarkable and came mainly by dint of Edi Tubau and Pau Quemada’s ability to run a two-man assault.
But Martin’s words were plainly wrong and a night to cool off gave him time to limit the damage caused a night earlier and recorded in the press.
He was quoted as saying that the result was “not given fairly” to Great Britain.”I feel the FIH need to take this very seriously, because this is a very serious situation.
“It cannot happen that an international official changes his decision twice just because he is surrounded by the opposition players. If the president of FIH does not give a public explanation of what has happened, then there will be very serious consequences.”
“We are in a tournament with clear favourites and these countries are being favoured. That’s all I have to say. They could have been the right decisions, but the umpires have stopped Great Britain from qualifying with the right honour. The decisions have been taken in the wrong way.”
An eminent British hockey writer expounded the theory of why the Olympics hold such a unique place. Spectator sport invariably has the fans as those caring the most about their team’s success.
A footballer from a small Irish town playing for middling English Premier League club may give his all every week but the gap between how much he cares compared to the supporter who has lived and breathed the club since his formative years will always be stark.
For a swimmer or a skeet shooter, though, personal performance is centre-stage much more so than the external bystander. The athlete is central to the Games.
For the most part, elite hockey is executed to a level equal of many professional sports but remains predominantly semi-pro in lifestyle. Sacrifice is done away from cameras and without adulation. To come within inches of glory and have it snatched away in whatever justified or not manner, is always going to be an emotional thing.
** Photos courtesy of Stanislas Brochier/Grant Treeby/FIH
1 Response to “Venting frustrations – Olympic blog days 10&11”
August 9, 2012 4:34 pm Forget about hockey for sec! says
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