The South African men’s hockey team are no longer living on bread and water, and it is understood that negotiations with potential sponsors are progressing nicely, but the team have been holding on to that hand-to-mouth mentality as they prepare for the Olympic Games.
They are retaining the hunger and desperation that has seen them qualify as the 12th and lowest-ranked team at the Olympics, going to the Games the hard way. They hold on to the determination and latent talent that has seen them beat some of the higher-ranked teams they will face in London. With two days left of their camp in Bloemfontein captain Austin Smith was bristling with belief at Sascoc’s team announcement on Wednesday.
“It’s definitely the best camp I’ve ever been on,” said Smith at Olympic House. “We’re doing a lot of conditioning work and Doc Derick (Coetzee, the former Springbok conditioning coach) has been working us hard. He’s put together a programme that is world-class. He has worked extremely hard to put together a programme that is specific to hockey. A lot of training we’re doing is imitating movements on a hockey field, but with resistance. The guys have worked exceptionally hard and have pushed through mental barriers I don’t think they knew they could.
“From a mental position that is important. So that we know, during the Olympics, when we reach the 60th minute against the hosts, Great Britain, and are 1-0 up or 1-0 down, we have it in the tank and get a result.”
Smith was part of the 2008 Olympic squad that failed to impress. Their coach, Gregg Clark, believes this side have a greater sense of belief than the team of 2008, and has called them the “golden generation” of South African hockey. Clark played in the 2004 Olympics team that could have also laid claim to that title, but now he will go to his fourth Olympics, his second as coach.
“It feels a little bit surreal to be here,” said Smith. “After we had qualified in August in Africa we thought the job was done, but it turns out we had to do it again. I think it has pulled our side together. The guys are even more excited now and looking forward to the Olympics even more. It’s done us the world of good. I think – I hope – it will show in our results.
“The way we go about our business feels a lot more professional (than the Olympic team of 2008). We’re better prepared, we’re better conditioned and all aspects are better. (The team of 2004) were inches away from doing something special for South African hockey (in the Athens Games), but Clarkie assures me this side is better, which for me is difficult to see because I used to look up to a lot of those guys. I got my first cap in 2004 and played with a lot of those guys, and while I didn’t go to the Olympics, a lot of those guys were amazing to me. Now we’re in a pool with a lot of teams we have beaten and that is pretty encouraging.”