Pressure is on GB to perform

by Mike Haymonds for
Saturday, August 6th, 2016

As the best-funded teams of full-time players taking part the Rio Olympics, Great Britain men and women will be expected to repeat at least the bronze medal the women gained at London 2012 and both are among the medal favourites.

Since the last Games the men have retained their high world ranking and are currently fourth. The women have slipped to seventh, despite becoming European champions in 2015, largely due to a disastrous 2014 World Cup and the recent fifth place at the six-nations Champions Trophy in June.

The men finished fourth at the latter but last month were runners-up in a tournament consisting of the top-four ranked European nations.

The Single System, now called the Player Pathway, the master plan to revolutionise English hockey has now been in operation for eight years. In that time, despite an improvement in world rankings, bronze at London 2012 and at the 2010 World Cup, both by the women, are the sole medals GB teams have won at the top two global events.

In Rio both GB squads will contain only England players - for the second successive Games for the men and for the first time for the women since their debut at the 1988 Seoul tournament.

Although a quarter of the 16-strong men’s squad are Northern Ireland-born, Iain Lewers and Mark Gleghorne, who began their international careers with Ireland, have played for England since 2011, and David Ames and Ian Sloan switched allegiance from Ireland in 2015 and make their Olympic debuts in Rio.

Both Rio squads have plenty of Olympic experience. Eight of the 2012 bronze medallists are in the women’s squad with captain Kate Richardson-Walsh, Crista Cullen, Helen Richardson-Walsh and Alex Danson making their third Olympic appearance.

In the men’s squad skipper Barry Middleton is a four times Olympian while Ashley Jackson returns for his third Games and ten players are making their Games debut.

The route to medals in Rio has been lengthened as the top four from the two six-team pools will now qualify for quarter-finals whereas previously the top two proceeded to the semi-finals which is an essential target for GB if they are to win medals.

Women’s head coach Danny Kerry said: “Compared with 2012 this squad is more attacking and creative and the defence has greater outletting ability. In the last four years there has been a closing up of standard amongst the top nations and there are seven teams who are medal contenders.”

Men’s head coach Bobby Crutchley said: “I’m confident we’re in good shape and now have a better understanding of how we need to play the teams we’ll meet.”