It has been a long, arduous and painful journey, but it has finally happened for Gregg Clark’s men. The South African men's hockey team’s participation was not guaranteed despite being crowned African champions after winning the African tournament which normally would mean an automatic spot in the Olympics, but the South African Sports Confederation And Olympic Committee (Sascoc) deemed the road to London too easy and then announced that in order to ensure their place in the English capital, they would need to win the tournament in Japan in order to claim the last berth for the Games.
After a tense few days in the central Japanese city of Kakamigahara, the Proteas won a tense final against the hosts (2-1) to complete their journey. Superb play all round kept the Japanese at bay and led to the South African team realising their dream of reaching the Olympic Games.
The satisfying thing is that the team, led by Austin Smith, can flip Sascoc the “bird” because they have gone beyond the call of duty to convince the administrators of the organisation that they belong among the best hockey teams in the world. Surely the team’s performances warranted a place in London before the qualifying tournament in the Land of the Rising Sun? Isn’t being crowned African champs enough to merit selection for the South African Olympic Team?
Yes, you may argue that the game time was invaluable preparation for the Olympics, but weren’t there other tournaments that the team could have played in, such as the one involving India and Great Britain? The pressure the players was under was probably a good thing, too, as it replicated the pressure they will face in London against the world’s best. Sascoc better not take any credit for it, because it was a miserable way to get the team to qualify. Nevertheless, their ridiculous decision may have forged the team together and made them stronger, something that I am sure coach Clark will not be complaining about with the event just less than three months away.
Good luck and well done boys!