News for 05 February 2012

All the news for Sunday 5 February 2012


Argentina win stunning Semi Final against Netherlands

Argentina FIH Champions Trophy - Day 6



Argentina FIH Champions Trophy - Day 6 - Netherlands v Argentina. (Photo: FIH / Frank Uijlenbroek)

Argentina defeated the Netherlands 2-0 on penalties in an action packed Semi Final with a tremendous finish at the Argentina FIH Champions Trophy held in Rosario. Noel Barrionuevo converted a penalty stroke 86 seconds before the end of regulation time to salvage extra-time for her team.

Before this thrilling encounter Great Britain have celebrated a deserved 2-0 win against Germany and now play off in a Champions Trophy final for the first time in history.

Full reports on all the matches can be found below, with extensive tournament information available by clicking here.

Argentina win stunning Semi Final against Netherlands
2nd Semi Final – NED 2-2 (0-2 PSO) ARG


The encounter between the two hockey giants from the Netherlands and Argentina started off in a great atmosphere. The Olympic Champions and current Champions Trophy title holders from the Netherlands had the better start into this promising match penetrating the circle twice before the World Champions from Argentina came up dangerously in the Dutch circle for the first time. Their first attack led to the 1-0 when Argentina’s superstar Luciana Aymar won possession and passed the ball to Maria Josefina Srouga (14’) who deflected this brilliant pass into the goal.

The Argentine happiness did not last long as the Netherlands won their first penalty corner a few minutes later after a stick-tackle against Margot van Geffen. Maartje Paumen’s drag-flick was saved by the Argentine goalkeeper Belen Succi. The Netherlands were sure the ball had touched an Argentine defender’s foot and took their team-referral. The video umpire confirmed their assumption and they won another penalty corner. This time Paumen (19’), the FIH Player of the Year 2011, left Succi no chance and netted her 7th goal against Argentina in Champions Trophy history.

Afterwards the World Champions from Argentina created some opportunities but they could not take advantage. The Netherlands also failed to take the lead after a penalty corner variation involving Paumen and Eva de Goede did not succeed. The match went into half time with a tied score 1-1.

Not even two minutes have been played in the second half when Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel (37’) scored out of the blue. Afterwards the Dutch supporters were subdued for a short time as keyplayer Paumen has slipped over a stick and fell. Lucky for the Dutch, she did not pick up any injury in this situation.

Argentina failed to equalise when Noel Barrionuevo’s attempt from a penalty corner missed its target. From now Argentina tried to pressure the Netherlands who defended strongly and stuck together as a team especially when Paumen was sent off with a green card. Argentina also had to miss their star player Aymar , who received a yellow card after she had played the ball away to stop a Dutch free-hit. In spite of missing Aymar, they won their third penalty corner taken by Barrionuevo. This brought the equaliser but the Dutch used their team referral again. They were convinced that obstruction had occurred in the circle. Again, their assumption was confirmed by the video umpire. The score stayed at 2-1.

Pushed forward by their big home crowd Aymar, who was back on the field, won another penalty corner after a stick-tackle from Willemijn Bos. This time Barrionuevo’s attempt was too high. Argentina substituted their goalkeeper for the last minutes of the game and attacked strongly. 86 seconds before the end of the match they won a penalty stroke after Paumen stopped an attack in the circle. The Olympic Champions took their team referral again but lost it this time as the decision penalty stroke was confirmed. Barrionuevo took responsibility and brought her team into extra-time. Her shot went into the bottom left corner. Neither Netherlands nor Argentina have ever conceded a goal in extra-time in Champions Trophy competition.

In extra-time Argentina were close to scoring from a penalty corner but the Dutch goalkeeper Joyce Sombroek saved the shot and rebound. The talented Dutch goalie produced another terrific save afterwards clearing with her glove and avoiding the Argentine Golden Goal. The Netherlands failed to score the Golden Goal when their penalty corner was taken right on time.

The match went into a penalty shoot-out and Argentina were the convincing winners scoring twice thanks to Rocio Sanchez Moccia and Luciana Aymar. It is the sixth year in succession that Argentina play off in a Champions Trophy final.

For more information on NED v ARG click here.

Great Britain qualify for Sunday’s final
1st Semi Final – GBR 2-0 GER


The 4th Champions Trophy encounter between Great Britain and Germany took place under great heat in Rosario. Because temperature got higher than 36 degrees Celsius in the team bench area the first half was interrupted for two minutes to give the players an opportunity to refresh. The 36 degree temperature is being used as it is less than normal body heat and as such, any higher temperature may compromise the body’s ability to cool.

The crowd did not witness high pace during the first half as the heat was a real challenge for everybody on the pitch. However, Alex Danson (4’) created the first promising opportunity in this match when she penetrated the circle from the left but German goalkeeper Yvonne Frank was well positioned to make the save. Soon after Great Britain’s Georgie Twigg fell heavily over German defender Mandy Haase’s stick and needed some medical treatment but she was back on the field later on.

Although Great Britain stayed the dominant side, German key players Haase, team-captain Fanny Rinne, Julia Müller and Nina Hasselmann marshalled the defence to stay strong. After Danson (12’) was tackled by Rinne and Hasselmann Great Britain won their first penalty corner. Frank was able to save Kate Walsh’s attempt but was defeated by Sarah Thomas (13’) who converted the rebound. Great Britain had a few more promising attacks in the first half while Germany struggled to penetrate the British circle. The 1-0 halftime lead gave Great Britain confidence as they were unbeaten in nine Champions Trophy matches in which they have scored the opening goal, recording eight wins and one draw.

As soon as the second half had started injector Ashleigh Ball (39’) doubled the lead after she deflected the ball into the goal at Great Britain’s second penalty corner. Afterwards goalkeeper Frank kept Germany in the game making some terrific saves. Great Britain were short in numbers after the umpires had awarded a yellow card to Helen Richardson. This allowed Germany a little more space to attack, however, Great Britain’s defence was very organised and Germany could not take advantage. They substituted their goalkeeper with six minutes to go but the first defeat against Great Britain in Champions Trophy history could not be avoided. The British goalkeeper Beth Storry had kept a clean sheet for the second time in this competition.

All-time record player Natascha Keller was honored by FIH president Leandro Negre before the match. The 34 year-old is the first woman who has ever played more than 400 international matches (including indoor appearances).

For more information on GBR v GER click here.

Flash quotes on Day 6

Michael Behrmann (GER Coach)
“It was an intensive match, really hard. We couldn’t create many options to score. Great Britain took advantage of our mistakes and could score. Anyway, I’m happy with the team performance.”

Fanny Rinne (GER Team –Captain)
“We’ve made many mistakes. The conditions were hard. We didn’t have many chances.”

Danny Kerry (GBR Coach)
“In the first half we created many options and could score, that made the difference. We knew that in the second half, they will attack and go for us, and we were ready for it. But we could stop them and control the match. I’m in this team since 2004 and I’m proud of these girls. We went through many good and bad things together.”

Kate Walsh (GBR Team-Captain)
“We knew it’ll be a hard match. And I’m proud of our team."

Maartje Paumen (NED Team-Captain)
“It was a really good game. Maybe the best we‘ve played in this tournament. I think we lost the game in the last two minutes.”

Max Caldas (NED Coach)
“I think we played a good game although we wasted many opportunities. If you waste these opportunities you lose the match. And this is what happened to us today. We should have won the game when we lead 2-1.”

Carlos Retegui (ARG Coach)
“I want to thank all players for this match. It was a great one. The players have performed very well.”

Luciana Aymar (ARG Team-Captain)
“Both teams played very well. I think today’s match was won by the intelligence. Both teams had moments where they controlled the match.”

Belen Succi (ARG goalkeeper)
“First of all I would like to congratulate Maartje Paumen on her award yesterday. I’m really happy with today’s match. This match had everything which is needed in a big final.”

FIH site



Great Britain reach historic final

Great Britain’s women are through to an historic first ever Champions Trophy final after a confident 2-0 victory over Germany in Saturday’s semi final, which was played in scorching temperatures of 40 degrees.  A goal in either half from Welshwoman Sarah Thomas and Slough’s England international Ashleigh Ball propelled Great Britain into what proved to be an unassailable lead in Rosario.

Great Britain began brightly with Reading’s Alex Danson thwarted early on by the quick thinking of Yvonne Frank in the Germany goal.  The opening spell set the tempo for a GB side intent on pressing the Germans in the hot and humid conditions.  Danson threatened again in the tenth minute before the breakthrough two minutes later.  Captain Kate Walsh saw her penalty corner flick saved by Frank, whose clearance only went as far as the edge of the circle.  Laura Bartlett’s ball to the back post found Sarah Thomas, who seemed to have an age to line up her shot, which she coolly squeezed through the goalkeeper’s legs to put Great Britain 1-0 up.

As the temperature soared the teams took a two minute drinks break midway through the half. Following the restart Germany had two opportunities, a first time shot from Natascha Keller that Reading’s Beth Storry in goal was equal to and a cut-back that flashed straight through the British circle.

But it was Great Britain who would score next.  Just three minutes into the second half and from their second penalty corner, Great Britain extended their lead.  Good work by Leicester’s Chloe Rogers earned the corner, which Ashleigh Ball injected to Crista Cullen at the top of the circle.  Leicester defender Cullen’s strike was outside of the far post and Ball reacted superbly to control the ball as it flew towards her, knocking it into an unguarded goal for 2-0.

The German goalkeeper was called upon again shortly afterwards, pulling off two saves that kept Germany in contention.  Great Britain survived a numerical deficit when Reading’s Helen Richardson found herself taking an enforced rest after being shown a yellow card.  Knowing they needed to press, Germany began to enjoy more possession but could not find the final pass necessary to break down a well drilled British back line.

With seven minutes remaining Germany withdrew the goalkeeper, replacing her with Nina Hasselmann as a ‘kicking back’, but the move did not pay off.  Ashleigh Ball had a late chance to add to her tally after excellent work along the baseline by Richardson but she failed to connect with the ball in the centre of the circle.

As the hooter sounded Great Britain celebrated together, knowing they had booked themselves a place in Sunday’s Champions Trophy final.

Following the match, Head Coach Danny Kerry said, “It was a controlled win in exceptionally hot conditions.  We have shown great maturity today in coming out and doing the business in a semi final.”

Great Britain captain Kate Walsh said, “We knew it would be a tough game and we knew we had to concentrate and be disciplined.  We took our chances well, we were clinical and I’m proud of the team for this.”

Bowdon Hightown’s Sally Walton added, “We have got our just desserts for all the hard work we’ve put in.  It’s out first final and we’ve certainly earned it.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Great Britain will play the winner of semi final two, which features Olympic Champions and World number one The Netherlands and World Champions Argentina.  The final takes place at 23:00 GMT on Sunday and will be screened live by the BBC on the red button platform.

The Champions Trophy is the first of three major tournaments for Great Britain ahead of the Olympic Games in London.  From 2-6 May, Great Britain will play in the Olympic Test Event and just seven weeks before London 2012, Great Britain will host some of the best teams in the world at the Investec London Cup in Chiswick.  Tickets for the Investec London Cup will go on sale shortly.

GREAT BRITAIN 2 (1)

Sarah Thomas 12 (F)               
Ashleigh Ball 39 (PC)               

GERMANY 0 (0)

GREAT BRITAIN SQUAD v GERMANY

Started


Beth Storry (Reading) Goalkeeper
Crista Cullen (Leicester) Defender
Emily Maguire (Reading) Defender
Anne Panter (Leicester) Defender
Laura Unsworth (Loughborough Students) Defender
Kate Walsh (Reading) Defender
Ashleigh Ball (Slough) Midfielder
Helen Richardson (Reading) Midfielder
Alex Danson (Reading) Forward
Sarah Thomas (No Club) Forward
Nicola White (Slough) Forward

Used Substitute

Sally Walton (Bowdon Hightown) Defender
Chloe Rogers (Leicester) Midfielder
George Twigg (Clifton) Midfielder
Laura Bartlett (Reading) Forward
Hannah Macleod (Leicester) Forward

Did Not Play

Abi Walker (EuroCanterbury) Goalkeeper
Natalie Seymour (EuroCanterbury) Defender

Great Britain Hockey media release



Gritty win impresses

By Michael Burgess


Stacey Michelsen. Photo / Getty Images


Yesterday's dramatic extra time win over China has important implications for the New Zealand women's team.

After scoring two goals in the last 10 minutes to level the game and push it beyond regulation, Stacey Michelsen scored from a penalty corner with time up.

The Black Sticks have often failed to meet their expectations in the Champions Trophy but they now have a chance to finish above their world ranking of sixth.

The scale of the comeback is defined by history. No team had come back to win from 2-0 down in a Champions Trophy match since 2002, while it was the competition's first penalty corner scored in extra time for over a decade.

The game against Japan (tomorrow 7am NZT) looks winnable, although the Japanese have been improvers throughout the week, pushing Germany in the quarter-finals before dispatching Korea in extra time yesterday.

"We now have a chance to finish the tournament on a high," coach Mark Hager said. "Though we had high hopes, the fact remains we are still a way from being in the top four nations. But to finish in the top six, after a tough week, gives us something to build on."

New Zealand trailed 2-0 with just over ten minutes left , before Cathryn Finlayson forced home a rebound. It was their first goal in over two hours' play and it ignited their belief.

"It was a relief to score," Kayla Sharland said, "and after that it felt like nothing was going to stop us."

When Finlayson netted again in the 67th minute, a precise shot from a tight angle, the pro-Kiwi crowd erupted. Both teams had further chances before Michelsen's goal and subsequent New Zealand jubilation.

For the first hour coach Mark Hager must have been frustrated. His team again turned over too much possession, failed to find their teammates when clearing their lines and missed simple passes on the run.

They lack experience in the midfield, which means fewer options, but most of the basic mistakes like misdirected passes or missed traps should not be seen at this level.

Hager didn't hold back at halftime; his venting could be heard from the press boxes.

"If you get a chance you have got to want to score," he told his team, "not just think you will score. Give it a crack and get it on target. And defenders, we have to be patient. Respect the ball."

"I just wanted them to get a bit desperate," reflected Hager after the match. "To throw themselves at the ball, to make sure they were first to it. Thankfully in the second half we showed some real desire."

Earlier a combination of brilliance from goalkeeper Bianca Russell and some wasteful finishing from the Chinese kept the score to 1-0 at halftime. When the Chinese extended their lead in the 41st minute, it was death or glory time.

It was fitting Michelsen scored the winning goal, a day after being named the FIH young player of the year. The 20-year-old was inspirational in midfield, driving her team forward along with captain Kayla Sharland. Hager also singled out Russell, Krystal Forgesson, Emily Naylor and Clarissa Eshuis for praise, while the team's commitment was epitomised by Charlotte Harrison who on three occasions in the second half dived full length to make a tackle.

Great Britain face Germany in the first semifinal today (9.30am NZT) before Argentina and the Netherlands meet in the night game (12.00pm NZT).

New Zealand 3 (C. Finlayson 60, 67 S. Michelsen 75) China 2 (L. Gao 10, Q. Song 41) Halftime: 0-1

The New Zealand Herald



Hager tells his team to go mental

By Michael Burgess


Despite the excellent progress over the last few years, Black Sticks coach Mark Hager still wonders about the mental toughness of his team - even more so since Friday's 3-0 loss to the Netherlands.

They have risen from 12th in the world to sixth under his watch, consistently looking more comfortable at the top table of world hockey but, over the last week, Hager has questioned the inner fight of his squad, both as individuals and as a collective unit.

"We are not mentally tough enough at the moment and that has been highlighted by our scorelines," Hager said. "We get in front but we can't hold it and it is an issue we have to address going forward. Mental toughness comes from within. It comes from digging deep; the will to win, and win every one-on-one contest. At the moment we have players who do that but I don't think collectively as a team we are doing it well enough."

New Zealand squandered 2-0 leads against Argentina and Korea last week while they didn't switch on until halftime against Germany and didn't score against the crack Dutch team. They did, however, haul back three goals to beat China yesterday, after being 2-0 down.

"Under pressure sometimes we don't cope well," admits Hager. "Our midfield turn the ball over way too much and we are a bit cavalier with possession when we go forward. Our young ones need to learn to be better in those situations. At the moment they might play five minutes well but the rest of the game they are falling apart - and that's even [true of] some of our more senior players too.

Discounting Bianca Russell (33) and Sally Rutherford (30) in goal, the senior members of the current squad are Kayla Sharland (26), Emily Naylor (26) and Krystal Forgesson (29). Below that there are 15 players aged 24 or under, 11 of those 22 or less.

"I feel this team is usually quite mentally tough and strong but I think this tour has shown us we are not probably quite there," says Hager. "Especially with the [recent] retirements they we have had (Anna Thorpe, Laura Douglas, Jan Burrows, Ella Gunson); they were older and used to the tough, hard grind."

"Age and experience count - especially when you make a bad start to a game or a tournament," says Blacks Sticks men's captain Dean Couzins. "It gives you the belief that you can and will bounce back."

Couzins, who leads a team full of players aged in their thirties, is quick to add that age is only one consideration: "It can be important but is not the be-all and end-all. You can be the best regardless of your age and I think the women have done fantastically well over the last few years."

Though the last three weeks have been fairly arduous, with a heavy playing schedule and some extreme weather conditions, in a sense the hard work starts now as the countdown to London begins in earnest.

"We'll have to dig deep when we get home and they'll be put through the wringer, says Hager. "They have to learn to make good decisions when they are tired. It's a fact of life; if they can't do it we are going to struggle."

"In this group, being mentally tough has been a constant message; we always talk about the 'one per centers'. You don't know when the one time you don't run, you don't make a tackle or you miss a trap could lead to a goal."

The New Zealand Herald



Aymar the magician, hockey's goddess

By Michael Burgess


Aymar earns rock star status. Photo / AP


If hockey in Argentina is a religion, then Luciana Aymar is the goddess.

Every once in a while comes a player who transcends their sport; Aymar has long been recognised as such, but it is only when in Argentina that you realise her true impact. Though surrounded by some outstanding players, the 34-year-old Aymar is the heart of the team and the hope of the nation in a country that is fanatical about hockey.

Her image is everywhere and the press conferences are a sight to behold, with otherwise professional journalists caught up in the excitement and unable to stop themselves from asking for photos and autographs.

The team have been on the front page of local newspapers every day, superseded only by the continuing obsession with Las Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) and British machinations there over oil.

The team's hotel is surrounded day and night with fans keen to see Aymar and Las Leonas - "it's like when the Beatles came to Australia" - remarked one Australian photographer. After the 2-2 draw with Korea on Wednesday, which finished at 9.30pm, over 100 youngsters were still waiting outside the stadium near 11pm, chanting for 'Lucha' and pleading with the security guards, in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of Aymar.

Eight times voted the world player of the year, she is often labelled the 'Diego Maradona of hockey', a comparison she doesn't mind.

"He was an idol with an incredible talent," she told the Herald on Sunday. "But the other thing with Diego was that he played from the heart and was able to transmit that. It is an honour they talk about him and I."

On the field the comparison could not be more precise. Both have carried their country to success on the world stage (Argentina won hockey World Cups in 2002 and 2010, four Champion's Trophies 2001, 2008-10 and three Olympic medals 2000-08) and inspired a whole generation.

"When I started [in 1995] nobody knew about hockey," says Aymar, who has represented her country over 300 times. "Then we started to win tournaments and everybody started following it. That is what I am most proud of."

Aymar, who is nicknamed 'the magician' brings skills to the sport that have never been seen before and probably never will again. Her ability to maneouvre beyond one, two and even three defenders at pace is simply astonishing. She can twist and spin out of the tightest situation and do full 360-degree turns with the ball glued to her stick, as well as dribbling faster than most players can run.

"It is incredible," says Black Sticks midfielder Stacey Michelsen. "Sometimes you know what she is going to do but you still can't stop her; you just have to limit the damage."

Watching her could convert anyone to hockey and everytime she gets the ball a buzz goes through the grandstand; a little like the David Campese effect but without the glaring errors.

There is sheer grit and determination, as well as some unconventional methods, behind the germination of the genius. Like Daniel Carter's parent's building full-sized goalposts in their backyard; like Richard Hadlee bowling at one stump until nightfall; like Don Bradman honing his coordination by hitting a golf ball against a wall with a single wicket.

"It's simple," laughs Aymar, "when I was young I spent a lot of time - I mean a lot - by myself with the stick." Her trainer would make the youngster practise with golf, tennis and snooker balls as well as attaching different weights to the bottom of her sticks, also making her use sticks that were too big or too small. It has given her the ability to do anything she wants on the turf, and in a country that worships flair over function, she is revered.

She claims to still have a normal life and says she has learnt to enjoy the constant pressure. But it can take its toll; she took four months off hockey at the end of last year to recharge, under instructions from the hockey hierarchy.

This week, expectation has multiplied. This tournament doubles as a farewell to her hometown, as she will retire after the Olympics. It has sometimes shown in her play; at times she has seemed desperate to impress, to give the fans one more brilliant memory.

After hockey she will remain a familiar face; according to Argentinian media she wants to become a television presenter and actress and has always had a glamorous side, turning down an offer from Playboy three years ago.

Aymar, who is generally recognised as the greatest Argentinian sportswoman of all time (just ahead of Gabriela Sabatini), is also generous in her praise of the New Zealand side.

"They have improved so much," says Aymar. "Now they are so dangerous. They are fast, aggressive and very attacking; it is always a battle to play them."

The New Zealand Herald



The girls about town

By Michael Burgess


One toastie maker to feed 18 athletes. A physiotherapist that spends five hours each night making frozen slushie drinks.

Cans of Wattie's spaghetti carted over from New Zealand.

A stray dog escorting you into a restaurant, where waiters operate a paperless system. Regular credit card chaos in the supermarket and heavy adoration from the locals.

Welcome to life on tour with the Blacks Sticks in Argentina.

Home for the week has been a four star hotel located in downtown Rosario, a few blocks from the Parana river (second biggest in South America after the Amazon).

It is easy to navigate your way around; half the roads lead away from the water, the rest intersect to form a perfect grid.

Not that there is time for sightseeing. The day starts with a team walk after breakfast to a local park for stretching and some games with a football and a frisbee.

Local attention is usually guaranteed; Horns toot and onlookers whistle, with cries of "Hola guapa" (Hey beautiful) as the Kiwis pass.

After some free time in the morning, there is a meeting to discuss penalty corner strategies, followed by the lunchtime snack of toasted sandwiches.

Team manager Debbie Balme somehow feeds the entire team using a single toastie maker, though the precious supplies of Wattie's spaghetti were rationed as the week went on.

Two hours later there is a pre-game briefing, where players go through tactics and strategies; coach Hager encourages his players to do their own scouting and come up with plans to nullify their individual opponents.

After a pre-game meal - often cereals and toast ("most of us eat cereal twice a day," says Stacey Michelsen, "the other teams think we are a bit weird"), the players embark on the 45 minute bus ride to the stadium.

On the journey along bumpy cobbled roads you can still see horse and carts, motorcyclists zipping by without helmets or proper shoes are a common sight, as are the cartoneros (men or sometimes whole families, out collecting huge piles of cardboard and paper well into the night, to be taken to recycling as their only source of income).

Estadio Mundialista sits on an arid patch of land on the outskirts of town, with large cactuses scattered around the neighbouring backyards.

It's basic, with no shelter in the stands from the blistering sun. The press boxes are handily located pitch side in each corner; handy that is until they water the turf, between matches and at halftime, which drenches any uncovered equipment in the front two rows.

The Black Sticks have their pre-game top-up of crackers and honey, before hitting the turf. After an extended warm-up, they come together for the final time; a talk, the anthems, a chant of "Go Kiwis", a banging of sticks and battle begins.

To combat the searing heat the team has brought a slushie machine, borrowed from High Performance Sport New Zealand. Team physiotherapist Fiona O'Connor spends five hours each night making 10 litres of the orange and lemon lime flavoured concoctions.

Their hotel has also hosted the Dutch, Korean and Japanese delegations but there is little mixing between the teams, apart from a polite hello in the lifts or corridors.

Free time is spent in the hotel, with the occasional trip to a supermarket, though some of the players were a bit perturbed that staff there insisted on taking a scratching of their credit cards.

Meanwhile, life in Argentina ticks by; things remain difficult, with heavy unemployment.

On most measures Rosario is struggling, though on the P.P.M.W.C.P.C index (percentage of potential Miss World candidates per capita), it is soaring. Here there is surely the most outrageous concentration of female beauty on the planet.

The New Zealand Herald

 



Belgium win first Test against SA hockey women

JONATHAN COOK in Randburg


A clinical Belgium won the first Test of the two-Test series against the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team 3-1 at Randburg Hockey Stadium Saturday.

Belgium led 1-0 at half-time through Stephanie de Groof before Alix Gerniers added another 12 minutes after the break. SA pulled one back via a Kate Woods penalty corner but a Sofie Gierts penalty stroke restored the two-goal margin three minutes from the end.

Mindful of what is sure to be a physically taxing Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Delhi that starts in a fortnight’s time, SA’s 33-year-old world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee was rested for the third consecutive match, while Lesle-Ann George (Free State) and Jade Mayne (WP) celebrated their 150th and 50th Test appearances respectively.

Belgium earned a soft PC in the third minute and De Groof opened the scoring. Soon after, Annie-Sophie van Regemortel shot wide. Belgium won a second and third PC but sound defence from goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa and first wave defender Sulette Damons dispelled the danger

In the 25 minutes to half-time SA got into several very good positions in the strike zone and were most unfortunate when Belgian umpire Laurine Delforge disallowed what looked to be a textbook goal finished off by Damons after nifty work down the right channel from co-striker Dirkie Chamberlain.

By the 26th minute SA won their first PC and were dominating the game but didn't take advantage of further genuine goalscoring opportunities as the half-time clock wound down.

After the re-start SA strikers Lauren Penny and Chamberlain had shots saved by keeper Aisling D’Hooghe, Damons came close once again before Belgium’s Emilie Sinia shot into the side-netting. In the 47th minute Belgium went 2-0 up against the run of play through Alix Gerniers.

The revitalised Belgians enjoyed a productive spell and skilful captain Charlotte de Vos earned her side’s fourth PC before Helene Delmee was agonisingly close. A turnover resulted in Belgium’s fifth PC and De Groof’s slap-shot was padded away by Mangisa.

SA continued to mount goal-threatening moves and with seven minutes left captain Marsha Marescia, in her 275th Test match - the most capped athlete in any SA team sport - showed true grit in shrugging off heavy tackles to win the girls in green and gold’s second PC, which Woods smashed into the backboard (2-1).

Belgium hit back and their sixth PC saw an Anouk Raes strike result in Delforge awarding a disputed penalty stroke, which the superb Sofie Gierts flashed into the roof of the net three minutes from time (3-1).

The second Test is at 11 am Sunday at Randburg.

SA Hockey Association media release



SA women primed for Olympic qualifier

By Alison De Villiers




The South African women’s hockey national side is on a major mission – qualification for the 2012 London Olympics.

South Africa need to win their Olympic Qualifier Tournament (OQT) in New Delhi in India, from February 15-26, to make the cut as one of the 12 participating teams at the Olympics in July.

The Proteas have been shaping their game during a tri-series involving Ireland and Belgium.

The final match of the tournament, between Ireland and Belgium in Randburg, was abandoned just before half-time on Thursday night due to lightning, leaving the final results table reading South Africa first with eight points, Belgium second on five points and Ireland third on two points.

The Belgium and South Africa women’s hockey team squads’ focus now turns to the two-Test series, which takes place at Randburg stadium today and tomorrow.

Meanwhile, national coach Giles Bonnet said he is fully aware of the pressure of qualification, but was not too phased about it.

“It’s all about being well prepared and being able to fall back into your training and the structures that we have in place,” he said. “It is these and the confidence of being in form which will allow the players to focus on themselves and not the opposition in the upcoming OQT. We are limiting new information and only working through details and plans which are familiar to our players and which are geared around delivering the opportunity of winning key games at the OQT.”

Sharing his sentiment is world record scorer Pietie Coetzee, who has the remarkable record of having netted 231 goals in 234 matches for her country.

“International sport is loaded with pressure. It is the main ingredient that sets it apart from competing at any other level.” said Coetzee. “We cope by focusing on the small details and ensuring we put the work in to give us results.

“I think most of us actually thrive on pressure. For me personally it would be one of the main reasons why I do this.”

The Proteas recently secured a 2-1 Test series win over Spain, much to the delight of Bonnet.

“What was pleasing was to see the progress we have made since we played them in June at the Champions Challenge and how we were able to play against them in the 3rd and 4th Test,” Bonnet said.

“I am particularly pleased with the penalty corner defence in which we have made important progress. Our confidence is very high and this boosts our confidence going into the Delhi qualifier.

“Playing under pressure is still a focus area, as is our attacking penalty corner and the number of corners we are creating in matches,” he added.

“Our defensive structure has improved, while we will still be looking to increase our ball pressure and winning ball skills.”

The team to play in India boasts a wealth of experience with the outfit containing of 11 Olympic Games players from one or two of, the Sydney, Athens and Beijing events. The squad boasts 2,112 Test matches between the 18 players, an average of 117 each.

“Players with more than 50 Test matches have been left out, which indicates that competition for places was high. The selection of this team is not cast in stone and will be reviewed on a regular basis,” added Bonnet

Captain Marsha Marescia said that players who just missed the cut had been given constructive advice by the coaching staff on how to improve their performance.

“They know it’s not the end of the road and it’s motivated them to get back in,” she said.

Women's team selected for Olympic qualifier tournament: Mariette Rix, Kate Woods, Shelley Russell, Jade Mayne, Lauren Penny, Kathleen Taylor, Tarryn Bright (all WP); Marsha Marescia (capt), Lisa Deetlefs, Bernadette Coston, Pietie Coetzee (all S Gauteng); Sanani Mangisa, Dirkie Chamberlain, Nicolene Terblanche, Kim Hubach (all N Blues), Lesle-Ann George (FS); Lenise Marais (KZN); Sulette Damons (North West). Head coach: Giles Bonnet. Assistant coach: Fabian Gregory

Independent Online



Penny set for the Big Time


South Africa's Lauren Penny is based in London. Reg Caldecott

If South Africa books a place in the women's hockey tournament at the London Olympics, it will be more than a little ironic for striker Lauren Penny.

Born in Port Elizabeth and raised in Cape Town, Penny moved to England in her late teens.

Three months ago the 25-year-old entertained no thoughts of competing on sport's largest stage.

Armed with a British accent and a lethal stick, however, she has overnight become one of the SA team's most dangerous weapons.

“I was playing club hockey (in England) in December and a journalist asked me why I wasn't playing internationally,” Penny said on Friday ahead of a two-Test series against Belgium.

“I said I had never been approached, and he asked if I would be interested in playing for South Africa.

“He contacted the coach, Giles Bonnet, and before I knew it I was on a plane.

“Giles had never even seen me play before, but they took a chance, and now I might be going to the Olympics. It's been surreal.”

Penny made her debut in a five-Test series against Spain in January, and joined world record goal scorer Pietie Coetzee up front, forming a potent attack.

She still lives in England, however, and travels back and forth, managing a hectic schedule to be available for home games.

Working as a physical fitness trainer, she boards a flight on Friday to join her teammates in Johannesburg, and by Monday morning she is back at the office in London.

Facing a challenging task in New Delhi later this month, South Africa must win the qualifiers, featuring six nations, to get the nod from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) for the London Games.

If they make it over the final hurdle, Penny will be the only player in the team without long distance travel concerns.

“It's been like a dream, but it's also been crazy, flying all over the place,” she said.

“I live five kilometres from the Olympic Stadium, so it's around the corner from my house. That would be nice.”

Independent Online



Black Sticks Men win 3-2 in second match against Korea

A much improved performance today saw the Black Sticks Men beat Korea 3-2 at Lloyd Elsmore Hockey Stadium in their second game of the five match test series.

“We were far more controlled and we dominated in key areas of the game. We held the ball for longer periods and were more effective when we had the ball. For the team to improve that much over night was commendable,” says McLeod.

McLeod puts it down to looking over the video, reviewing the game and simplifying the tasks for each player. “The players had a much better grasp of exactly what they needed to do,” says McLeod.

The Kiwis played with a much greater level of intensity, putting Korea under pressure early on. One of the best opportunities came when the ball fell to Kane Russell, and at close range he took a reverse stick shot at goal, but it went high over the net.

The Black Sticks were reduced to a team of ten when Steven Edwards and shortly after Nick Haig were green carded for infringements, but the Kiwis continued to defend well and kept the pressure on.

The Koreans were awarded their second penalty corner in the 24th minute, which although found the back of the net, was disallowed by the umpire due to the ball hitting the Korean’s player’s foot at the top of the circle.

The Black Sticks were awarded their first penalty corner of the game in the 32nd minute, and Russell made the most of it flicking the ball high into the net and converting his second penalty corner of the series.

The half time score was 1-0 and the Black Sticks stretched this lead two minutes into the second half when a goalmouth scramble saw Simon Child pass the ball to Hugo Inglis who tapped it in.

In the 52nd minute, the Black Sticks skillfully moved the ball down the field, passing from defence through to the attack and finally Inglis crossed to Simon Child who scored his second goal of the series and the Kiwis took a three goal lead.

The Koreans, ranked sixth, continued to push hard and it paid off when Hyo Sik You scored a field goal from close range and it was followed by another goal from Nam Yong Lee eight minutes later. But the spirited comeback from the skilful Koreans was not quite enough and the Black Sticks held on to take the win.

Goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday today, had an outstanding game keeping the Koreans out until the 60th minute. Simon Child, Shea McAleese and Kane Russell were other stand out players.

The Black Sticks Men play their third game of the five test series on Thursday at 6.30pm at Lloyd Elsmore Hockey Stadium in Pakuranga, Auckland. Tickets are $5 for children and $10 for adults. Gate sales only and Eftpos is available.

Hawke’s Bay is the Principal Partner of the Black Sticks Men and Women.

RESULTS
Full time: 3-2 (NZ win)

Half time: 1-0 (NZ lead)
NZ Goal Scorers: Kane Russell, Hugo Inglis, Simon Child

Hockey New Zealand Media release



Sloppy Black Sticks beat Korea

By Michael Brown


There's something about playing Korea that agrees with the New Zealand men's hockey side and, despite playing poorly when the two teams met in Auckland today, they won 4-2 in the first of five tests.

Korea are ranked sixth in world hockey, one place above New Zealand, but were beaten 6-1 the last time the two sides met at last year's Champions trophy.

Although they played infinitely better than the hosts today and dominated almost every facet, a combination of good goalkeeping from Kyle Pontifex, poor finishing and bad luck saw them edged.

They led 2-1 with eight minutes remaining but conceded three quick goals, one a piece of individual brilliance from striker Simon Child, as the Black Sticks finished strongly.

"I don't know how we won that," New Zealand coach Shane McLeod admitted. "It was a little bit of individual class and Simon [Child] did a couple of things at key moments that gave us the opportunity to be in the game let alone win the game. I don't think we played well."

They were sloppy in possession, constantly giving the ball away and often in bad areas, and struggled to build any pressure. In contrast, Korea were quick on the break and found joy dribbling through the middle of the park.

For McLeod, however, this series is not about results and he rested eight players from the squad who finished fourth at last year's Champions Trophy. The likes of Ryan Archibald, Blair Hopping, Dean Couzins, Phil Burrows and Nick Wilson have been given the weekend off - the two sides meet again tomorrow - as McLeod casts his eye over a number of fringe players.

The coach has locked in nine of the 16 players he will take to the Olympics and has challenged the remainder in the extended 27-man squad to force their way into the team for London. In contrast, Korea are using the series as a buildup to their Olympic qualifiers and have assembled a strong squad.

The visitors took the lead through a 10th-minute penalty corner to Jong Hyun Jang but couldn't add to their tally in the first half. Hugo Inglis equalised in the 42nd minute when Child delivered a pin-point pass to an unmarked Inglis in the circle but Hyuon Woo Nam restored Korea's lead 10 minutes later from another penalty corner.

Child provided the highlight of the match with a surging run into the circle and reverse drive that found the net in the 62nd minute.

Korea enjoyed six penalty corners before New Zealand were awarded their first four minutes from time. Defender Richard Petherick converted and Kane Russell, on debut, scored another after the final hooter to give the score a flattering look.

"Korea are a tricky side but we seem to have their number," McLeod said. "Even when we play poorly, and we didn't play well today, they struggle to beat us. We have had games where they have absolutely hammered us on all the stats and we've won 2-1. There's something about the way we play and they play that suits us."

McLeod will hope that trend continues throughout the series, starting with the second test tomorrow.

New Zealand 4 (Hugo Inglis 42, Simon Child 62, Richard Petherick 67, Kane Russell 70) Korea 2 (Jong Hyun Jang 10, Hyun Woo Nam 51). HT: 0-1.

The New Zealand Herald



Aussies rout Malaysia

WORLD No 1 Australia hit eight goals past Malaysia in their fourth friendly in Perth yesterday.

The 8-1 drubbing was not shocking, as 13th ranked Malaysia had beaten the Aussies 5-2 on Thursday, and the world champions pulled out all stops in the final friendly, where the solitary Malaysian goal came from Azreen Rizal.

Malaysia had lost 3-1 and 5-2 in the earlier encounters, and will  play the Netherlands in Perth today.

The national players are Down Under to prepare for the Dublin Olympics Qualifier on March 10-18 where they will play South Korea, Ireland, Chile, Russia and Ukraine.

Malaysia will head to Cardiff on Feb 28, where they are scheduled to play two matches against the Welsh team, and then move to Dublin on March 5.

Only the gold medallists from the Qualifier advance to the London Olympics.

New Straits Times



Malaysia get hockey lesson from Aussies

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia were brought down to earth with thump when they were hammered 8-1 by Australia in the last of their four-match friendly series at the Lemnos Shenton Park in Perth.

World champions Australia wrapped up the series by winning three matches. They won the first two 3-1 and 5-2 before losing the third 2-5.

And yesterday’s fourth friendly proved to be a no-contest once the Aussies took an early third-minute lead through Matt Ghodes.

Their other goals were scored by Luke Doerner (13th, 31st), Chris Ciriello (44th), Glenn Turner (46th), Jamie Dwyer (56th), Tim Deavins (59th) and Eddie Ockenden (60th).

Defender Azreen Rizal’s penalty corner goal in the 51st minute was all Malaysia could do.

“There was no let-up in the Australian game ... not even when they had a 5-1 lead. They showed sheer determination to win the match and were superior to us in all areas,” said stand-in manager Stephen van Huizen.

“We gave the ball away far too cheaply and were punished.”

Stephen said that only the injured defender Mohd Razie Rahim and goalkeeper S. Kumar did not play yesterday.

“All the other 19 players were given a chance to play. We got off to a bad start and were left chasing them throughout the match,” said Stephen.

“We still have one more friendly to go before we wrap up the tour. We play Holland at 4.30pm tomorrow (today). The Dutch told us that they want to play four quarters of 15 minutes each.”

Malaysia, who are preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in Dublin next month, will return home tomorrow.

The Star of Malaysia



Arsalan helps NBP thrash PIA 5-0

Our Sports Reporter


KARACHI: Arsalan Qadir’s four goals helped National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) thrash Pakistan Air Force (PAF) 5-0.

Arsalan Qadir scored in the 23rd, 28th, 33rd and 42nd minutes soon after Mohammad Atiq gave NBP the lead in the 21st minute.

PAF could only stand by watching the bankers score.

The day’s other matches saw Army and Port Qasim Authority (PQA) scoring victories.

Army moved to the second spot from third when they edged past PHF Academy 2-1.

Mohammad Imran converted two penalty-corners (18th and 65th mins) to score both the goals for Army.

M. Abrar Khan (49th min) scored for PHF Academy. PQA beat Wapda 3-2.

Two goals for the winners were scored by Ali Azlan (third and 27th mins) with Owais Khan (64th min) adding the third.

Meanwhile, both of Wapda’s goals were scored by their captain Rehan Butt (fourth and 22nd mins).

Saturday’s fixtures: HBL v Navy (9.00am); PIA v PAF (11.00am); NBP v Army (1.00pm); SSGC v PQA (3.00pm).

Dawn



Pep-talk does the trick

10-man UniKL made to sweat

By Jugjet Singh



UniKL’s Mohd Hafify Mohd Rodzi (centre) tussles with BJSS’ Muhamad Fitri Ismail in their match yesterday. BJSS won 3-2. Pic by Yazit Razali

TITLE aspirants UniKL Young Guns edged Bukit Jalil Sports School 3-2, but lost their skipper to a red card in Division One of the Milo-Junior Hockey League yesterday. 

Playing at the Ministry of Education Stadium, UniKL were a pale shadow of themselves, and were lucky to walk away with a victory to keep their League title hopes alive. 

UniKL walked onto the pitch like they were expecting an easy victory, but they were proven wrong by BJSS in the 27th minute  when Fitri Ismail scored off their only penalty corner of the first half.

UniKL wasted seven penalty corners mostly due to bad stopping, and went into the dressing room with their heads low as they trailed by a goal for the first time this season.

However, the pep-talk in the dressing room changed their fortunes, as UniKL came back into the picture off their first penalty corner  after the break in the 39th minute when Nor Aqmal Gaffar scored the equaliser off a direct attempt.

And the second goal followed in the 44th minute, when Haziq Samsul scored off a goalmouth melee after a botched penalty corner attempt.

BJSS however refused to give up, and levelled the score at 2-2 in the 50th minute when Wan Mohamed Hazrul slammed in the ball off their second penalty corner of the match.

There was more misery for UniKL as their skipper Taufik Hamid slammed the face of BJSS player Ashraf Alias with his stick, and was red carded by umpire Jasveer Singh in the 55th minute.

However, 10-man UniKL held on by sheer grit, and won the match with a 69th minute field strike from Haniff Saidin.

"It was not what we expected, but still, I'm proud of my players as they came back from a goal down to win this crucial match and keep our title holes alive," said UniKL team manager Amir Azhar.

And in the earlier match at the same venue, BJSS Juniors lost 1-0 to USM-MSSSPP.

The solitary goal was scored by Sazli Hussaini in the 30th minute and now it looks like BJSS Juniors are doomed to play in the lower division next year.

Sapura claimed their sixth successive win in Division Two Group A when they hammered Kedah HA Juniors 5-0 at the KLHA Stadium in Pantai.

Sapura took the lead in the 17th minute off Shahfirul Aqmal and in the 26th minute increased the lead through the efforts of Ahmad Iqwan.

In the second half goals from Ammar Adly (41st), Iqwan (45th) and Fadzli Zulkifli (51st) gave them a convincing win.

RESULTS -- Division One: BJSS Juniors 0 USM-MSSPP 1, MBPJ 2 SSTMI Juniors 1, BJSS 2 UniKL 3.

Division Two, Group A: Negri HA 0 Anderson Juniors 5, Sapura 5 Kedah HA Juniors 0, KHA-MSNK 3 MSSPP-USM Juniors 0, PHK-MSS Kelantan 2 Nur Insafi 1.

Division Two, Group B: Yayasan Pahang 1 Olak-PKT 1, Malacca High School 4 KL Sports School 0, Datuk Taha 1 Tunas Pahang 0.

TODAY: Division Two, A: MSS Kelantan v Negri HA (Seremban II, 4pm).

New Straits Times



Late thrill for UniKL

By S. RAMAGURU


KUALA LUMPUR: A goal 30 seconds from time by Haniff Saidin gave Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) a crucial 3-2 win over former champions Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) at the Ministry of Education Stadium Turf yesterday.

The win took the reigning league champions back to second spot in the standings with 12 points – the same as leaders Thunderbolt.

BJSS shot ahead in the 27th minute through Mohd Fitri Ismail off a penalty corner but UniKL drew level in the 39th minute with a penalty corner goal by Mohd Nor Aqmal Abdul Ghaffar.

UniKL went 2-1 up in the 44th minute through Mohd Haziq Shamshul. But Wan Mohd Hazrul equalised for BJSS six minutes later.

UniKL suffered a blow in the 55th minute when skipper Taufik Hamid was given the marching orders by umpire Jasveer Singh for hitting BJSS player Ashraf Alias’ face with his stick.

Luckily for UniKL, Haniff came to their rescue with a late, late winner.

It was a double blow for BJSS as their juniors were edged 1-0 by MSS Penang-USM in another Division One match at the same venue earlier.

Sazli Hussaini Sobirin’s 30th minute goal was enough to give USM victory and it is looking more and more likely that BJSS Juniors – winless after six matches and with just two more matches to go – may be playing in the lower division next year.

In another Division One match, Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) edged SSTMI Juniors 2-1 at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil to boost their chances of a top-six finish and qualify for the knockout stage.

T. Ganeisha and Mohamed Farhan scored for the PJ side while Azhad Akmal reduced the deficit for SSTMI.

MBPJ now have six points and two matches left. But they are still not safe as SSTMI Juniors, on three points, have four more matches to go.

The Star of Malaysia



State of the art


With the deftness of a mountain rally veteran, the cab driver weaves his way through the heavy Gwalior traffic. The inadequate roads in this bustling town of over a million gives an illusion that there are more vehicles than souls out in the streets.

As the destination approaches, ‘inadequate’ becomes ‘non-existent’, and the city suddenly looks every bit part of the ‘M’ of BIMARU states. It’s difficult to imagine that at the other end of this dug-up alleged road is a top-class sporting facility — one that is on it’s way to be a symbol of a rapidly developing, 21st century Madhya Pradesh.

The sprawling MP State Women’s Hockey Academy is one of the aggressive initiatives across disciplines taken by the state government to put the province prominently on the country’s sporting map. Established in 2007, the academy is home to 52 girls. It has a hockey field, equipped with a state-of-the-art synthetic turf and floodlights. With the state government taking care of their expenses as well as education, hockey is the only thing on the the minds of the girls.

Indian men’s hockey team coach Michael Nobbs takes a day off from national duty to visit the academy and experience the facilities first hand. “It’s as good as where the men’s national team was training in Bangalore,” Nobbs says. “The Australian Institute of Sports also started like this,” he adds, referring to the high performance centre Down Under, established in 1981, that is often credited with transforming the country into a global sporting superpower.

For MP, global domination will have to wait. The job at hand is to compete with, if not fare better than, other more prosperous states. The encouraging thing is that it’s happening. The academy is beginning to produce quality players on a conveyor belt. With half a dozen players from this institution having represented India in the last couple of months, it’s safe to say it could become MP’s answer to Haryana’s famous hockey hub Shahbad.

That, however, is only one box ticked. To really rival, and eventually usurp, the likes of Haryana — a state whose athletes won 15 out of India’s 38 gold medals at the Delhi Commonwealth Games — across disciplines, more needs to be done. And more, indeed, is being done.

The beginning

It all started when Yashodhara Raje Scindia became the state’s Minister of Sports and Youth Welfare when BJP came into power in 2007. As a portfolio, sports has traditionally been looked down upon even in the Union Cabinet. During the era of jumbo cabinets in Uttar Pradesh in the late 90s and early 2000s, a joke doing the rounds was that the khelkood vibagh (roughly translated as sports activity ministry) should be spilt up into two — a khel mantri and a kood mantri — to accommodate one more candidate.

However, for Scindia, an avid sports enthusiast, it was a dream job. “I saw it as an opportunity to get involved with something I always loved,” she says. Her stint lasted only 13 months, as she moved to Lok Sabha, but the time was enough for her to set the wheels in motion. Four years later, the state government still sees sport as great advertisement for good governance and continues to pump money into it.

Right behind the hockey academy, an indoor badminton facility, along the lines of Pullela Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad, is coming up. Once complete, it will have two international and four practice courts. In fact, the government has roped in Gopi as chief coach and consultant of the academy.

Similarly, in Bhopal, the state’s Department of Sports and Youth Welfare (DSYW) has set up a shooting academy. Mhow already boasted of a world class facility, but that belonged to the Services. So the state government came up with one on the outskirts of the capital, under international marksman Mansher Singh’s guidance.

As you approach the 56-acre compound, situated aptly on Abhinav Bindra Marg, the concrete jungle gives way to farmland. The prevailing silence is pierced intermittently as budding Bindras fire rounds after rounds. Last month, the metaphorical bang was heard as far as Doha, where the academy’s shooters won 11 medals in senior and junior categories — with Rajkumari Rathore winning a gold in 50m Prone, but losing out on an Olympic quota in 3-positions by a single point.

Although delivering impressive results, the aforementioned hockey, badminton and shooting academies, however, don’t quite capture MP’s aspirations as emphatically as perhaps its two other endeavours do: water sports and equestrian academies.

Wide base

After all, every state boasts of hockey grounds — if not quite floodlit ones — and badminton halls, and while shooting ranges are not so common, the recent Indian exploits have made it a popular sport to latch on to. But it’s the seriousness with which MP has taken up relatively lesser-known disciplines that drives home the point.

For an outsider, it’s difficult to picture this landlocked state as a hub of rowing, sailing, kayaking or dragon boat racing, but that is until you take an evening stroll to the picturesque Badi Jheel. Unmindful of the tourist cruise boats, a bunch of serious-looking men and women are paddling their plank-shaped boats hard in a quiet corner of the 31 sq km water body.

These are athletes from the state’s Water Sports Academy going about their daily training routine. In four years, MP has become a force to reckon with in water sports, with the state team lifting the National Kayaking and Canoeing title in Bangalore last year. One of the rowers, Monalisa Chanu, in fact, has also won gold at the junior Asian meet in China.

For the state, however, an even more unorthodox step than taking up water sports was to set up an equestrian academy, a sport almost exclusive to the Services or the ones with blue blood. The sprawling 25-acre facility, one of a kind, has 30 horses and 26 students — girls and boys, all from middle or lower-middle class.

Brig (retd) DVS Bishnoi, formerly of the Equestrian Federation of India and now in-charge of the academy, says: “Initially, when we used to take our teams to various competitions, people used to laugh at us. Now that our teams have won junior national polo and various horse shows, they don’t.”

Hired guns, not quite

Despite all these achievements, one charge that MP often faces is about their top performers being imported from other states. The likes of Monalisa Chanu and P. Sushila Chanu (hockey), both originally from Manipur, aren’t exceptions but norms.

Scindia explains: “When we started out, the ratio of local and outsiders was 50:50. We would conduct trials and select players and train them at our academies, and they would then go on to represent Madhya Pradesh.”

This process of polishing uncut stones into finished products sounds reasonable — at least more reasonable than handing out bucketfuls of ghee and car keys to the Gagan Narangs and Saina Nehwals on the grounds that their ancestors were from Haryana.

Amid a growing clamour for local sportsmen, however, DSYW has decided to increase the ratio to 90:10. The belief that it will be sustainable, that MP has enough talent pool to feed its academies without a drop in results, stems from the fact that in the last four years, a lot of work has been done at grassroots as well.

Top-down & bottom-up

The sports department has married both top-down and bottom-up approaches: while academies were being set up, the government also launched a scheme to promote sports at the lowest level by appointing paid khel samanvayaks (sports coordinators) at the village and block levels to train youngsters and organise events. It would turn out to be a spiritual predecessor to an ambitious project that the Centre launched one year later (2008-09) — the PYKKA (Panchayat Yuva Khel aur Kreeda Abhiyan).

All that, of course, has required funds, and MP put its money where the mouth is. Before 2007, MP’s budget for sports was a paltry Rs 5 crore; last year, it had climbed to Rs 71 crores. In the corresponding period, MP’s medal tally in National Games also ballooned up from 63 (Guwahati) to 103 (Ranchi).

“There has been an exponential growth in terms of medals won by our athletes in the last four years. Now we want to take it to the next level. We want to host international events and make the state a hub of sports in the country. I think we are moving in the right direction,” says state sports director Shailendra Shrivastava.

In a country that has traditionally believed in first bagging rights for mega sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games, then creating infrastructure and finally focusing on preparing athletes, MP has indeed chosen the right path: the other way round.

Indian Express