May 2, 2008 – The U.S. women’s field hockey team won the Olympic qualifier tournament in Kazan, Russia this week to claim a spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They outscored their opponents 27-4, posting shutouts against India (4-0), France (7-0) and Russia (7-0). It was the last shot for the Americans and they had no intention of wasting it. Midfielder Rachel Dawson, 23, was named Player of the Tournament.
To date, the U.S. women’s team has only participated in two Olympics. In 1980 women’s field hockey was added to the Olympic lineup, but the U.S. team did not compete because of the United States’ boycott of the Moscow games. The women won the bronze in 1984: and the team’s last Olympic appearance was the 1996 Atlanta games, where they placed 5th overall.
Earning an Olympics spot is a huge accomplishment for the American women. Field hockey is considered the third most popular sport worldwide, behind soccer and cricket, but the U.S. has struggled to be competitive. In countries like the Netherlands, boys and girls begin playing at age four or five. Whole families belong to hockey clubs – much like swim, tennis or golf clubs in the States – with each family member playing on a different team. In the United States field hockey is a girls game and not usually introduced until middle or high school.
Comparing the popularity and history of the sport in the United States to the rest of the world underscores the U.S.’s accomplishment in winning the qualifier tournament. The U.S. bested the Netherlands, a country with a very strong women’s team who claimed the silver at the 2004 Olympics and the gold at both the 2000 and 1996 Olympics. The U.S. also defeated India in a shut-out 4-0 match. This marks the first time in 80 years that an Indian hockey team has not qualified for the Olympics.
The U.S. will join China, Japan, South Africa, Argentina, the Netherlands (they already earned a spot before competing in the qualifying tournament), Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Spain in Beijing this summer.