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Hockey’s last chance

By Mark Etheridge

Our men’s hockey team are en route east to Japan for their FIH Olympic qualifying tournament in Kakamigahara… but you can bet that north is the direction they’ll also have in the back of their minds.

That’s because they’ll most certainly want to be part of Team South Africa that jets off northwards in mid-July for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Twelve teams will do duty in this faraway tournament, and South Africa must emerge on top of these if they are to seal their spot in London.

The tournament starts next Friday and ends on 6 May and South Africa have gone the long way round in terms of qualifying. They won the African Olympic qualifier in Zimbabwe back in September but were required to make the final of the Champions Challenge in Johannesburg two months later in terms of qualifying criteria.

They failed to do so, instead having to be satisfied with bronze. So their own last-chance saloon now is this Far East tournament.

But coach Gregg Clark is as ever, a positive figure. “Everything is in place for the tour and now it’s just a case of executing game by game,” he told Road to London 2012 on the way to Japan.

The 12th ranked South Africans are the highest qualifiers at the tournament and all being equal, should come through and book their London berth.

It’s just a matter of the players being able to gel after, as is customary now, getting together from all corners of the globe to form a united front.

“Our prep has had its challenges, but if all our Europe-based players come through their league matches unscathed on Sunday before they head across to Japan to join us, then we will be ready for the main challenge that remains between us and a ticket to London,” said Clark, a former Olympic player himself.

In recent months his team have drawn a series with fourth-ranked Great Britain and also beaten Austria in a Test series. Austria will also be playing in Japan.

Where does Clark expect his main threat to come from? “We expect hosts Japan as well as China to be our toughest opposition, but having faced Japan at the Champs Challenge tournament in Joburg in December, we have an idea what to expect and are confident that on our day we should get the better of them.”

Sponsorship, or the absence of it, has long been a problem with the men’s hockey team so
the news that Mr Price Sport have put up their hands and come aboard as the official kit sponsor, is a huge plus.

Said SA Hockey President Dave Carr: “We are pleased to have a premier South African brand of the stature of Mr Price Sport on board. The brand will be a constant reminder to the team of the support from all South Africans.ÔÇØ