SA hockey men in final Olympic bid
19 April 2012
The South African men's hockey team jets off for Japan on Thursday, and will be hoping that the Land of the Rising Sun shines kindly on them as they seek to clinch the last available hockey spot at the London Olympic Games.
From 26 April to 6 May, South Africa will compete in the FIH Olympic Qualifier in Kakamigahara, where they will have to win the gold medal to qualify for the 12-team tournament at the Olympics.
It has been a long and involved qualification process thus far for the team, which began back in September when they won the African Olympic Qualifier in Zimbabwe, only to have their spot retracted after additional criteria was put in place.
Narrowly missed out
They then narrowly missed out on securing their qualification at the Champions Challenge, held in Johannesburg in November. They walked away with a bronze medal when a top two finish was required to confirm their place at the Olympics.
It's been a case of so near and yet so far, but there are still plenty of reasons to be positive about the team's prospects of securing a positive result in Japan.
Since the Champions Challenge, they have drawn a series with Great Britain (ranked fourth in the world), as well as recorded a series win over Austria, who will participate in the upcoming Qualifier.
Positive win-loss ratio
Furthermore, the 12th-ranked SA team recently beat India in India for the first time ever, maintaining the positive win-loss ratio that they've enjoyed over the past year in spite of the fact that the majority of matches have been played against higher ranked opposition.
Coach Gregg Clark said in a statement that he has been extremely encouraged by the form shown by his squad.
"We have, in my opinion, the most complete group of international hockey players this country has seen for a few generations, and it is our goal to make it to London and to achieve a significant result," he enthused.
Midfielder Wade Paton, who could earn his 50th cap for South Africa if picked to participate in the team's first game against Brazil on 26 April, said preparation had been going well.
"We really have a good group of players and we're all friends, which helps quite a lot.
"It comes down to a trust factor because a lot of us are based around the country and world. So we might not interact on the same sort of basis as the Springboks or Proteas do when they have camps all the time. You have to trust that your teammates are putting in the hard work to know that they will deliver when it really counts. We are fortunate to have that and we have had some really good training."
Official kit sponsor
In recognition of the team's success as well as their potential, Mr Price Sport is now the official kit sponsor of the SA men's team, which Clark said was a major boost.
"We're really looking forward to donning our new green and gold Maxed kit for the Olympic Qualifier in Japan and clinching the qualification spot. We're confident that we'll make our new sponsors proud to be associated with not only great athletes, but great South Africans."
For a team that has struggled at times to find sponsors, it is a significant breakthrough.
President of the South African Hockey Association Dave Carr also welcomed the sponsorship: "We are pleased to have a premier South African brand of the stature of Mr Price Sport on board in our quest to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics.
He concluded: "The Mr Price Sport brand will be a constant reminder to the team of the support from all South Africans."
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