The United States has won only one medal in women’s Olympic field hockey, and that was a bronze when the nation hosted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. But this year’s team has high expectations that it will reach the podium at the London Olympics.
After receiving an automatic berth as host of women’s Olympic field hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, the United States failed to qualify for the event at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. So it hired a new coach in 2005, Lee Bodimeade, who won a silver medal playing men’s field hockey for Australia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
He says his philosophy of the game, and the fact that the culture of Australian and American sports are similar, helped him get the job.
“It’s an aggressive mentality to go and get the ball," said Bodimeade. "And my real belief is empowering the athletes and having them be the driver to success which is ultimately what determines it. And I wanted to give them the freedom to be able to play and make decisions on the run and, as I said, empower them to have the knowledge and ability to do so.”
Bodimeade guided the American women to a berth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They were rated 11th in the 12-team field and finished 8th. Seven of the Beijing players are on Bodimeade’s team for the London Games.
“What’s transpired since then is we have an addition of young, fast, skillful athletes that are elevating the performance, and so that’s what we’ve got," he said. "We’ve got the base level of senior players that have a very, very good fundamental base of skill, and now we have the real sharp elevated skill level from the newer players in the group.”
The U.S. women upset then-world number-one Argentina at last year’s Pan American Games in Mexico to earn an automatic Olympic berth And in a recent series of pre-Olympic warm-up matches against the world champions in Virginia, the Americans and Argentines each won once and played to two draws.
Bodimeade says it is important for his players to test themselves against the best.
“Everything is about being able to execute the basic skills under extreme pressure and at speed," he said. "And the more you’re exposed to that, the more you’re able to adapt and be able produce at that level. And we’ve really worked hard on our basic skill level and being able to do that under pressure, and that has driven our elevation of performance.”
The captain of the U.S. women’s field hockey team is 27-year-old central defender Lauren Crandall.
Bodimeade calls her an exceptional, disciplined hockey player who drives the team.
“She has to be all things. She has to be smart," he said. "She has to be able to read the play exceptionally well, her ability to distribute [the ball] and to set our attacking plays. She’s the key to it, and that’s what she does very well.”
Crandall grew up playing soccer, but switched to field hockey in high school. She says she never had thoughts of competing in an Olympics. She just loved the competition and worked hard at the sport without knowing where it might lead her.
Now, with recent successes, she and her teammates believe they can win an Olympic medal in London.
“You know we’re ranked 10th in the world right now, but we feel like if we follow the process like we have been and taking the steps that we need to, we’ll put ourselves in position to be standing on the podium at the end of the London Games," said Crandall.
To do it, the United States will need to get through round-robin matches in a difficult Pool B that includes Argentina, Australia, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa.
Coach Bodimeade says his team is ready for the challenge.
“Nobody goes to the Olympics for experience in my book," he said. "You are going there to win. And that’s the belief that I have. We’re going in there to put in these performances that will give us the result that we want.”
And that is to capture the first Olympic medal for U.S. women’s field hockey since 1984.