Support for the South African men's hockey team in Japan was phenomenal and the team appreciated it, coach Gregg Clark said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
“We were very grateful for the support we received from South Africa,” he said at the team's arrival from Japan, where South Africa won the Olympic qualifier tournament, booking a place at the London Games.
“We received constant messages of support and well-wishes which lifted our spirits in tricky times. We always felt the team had the backing of the fans back home and to have that when you are so far from home is great.”
A small crowd earlier greeted the South Africans at OR Tambo International Airport, including a Johannesburg high school hockey team which sang and held banners.
The team won its Olympic qualifier tournament on Sunday, beating hosts Japan 2-1 in the final in Kakamigahara. South Africa finished the tournament as the only unbeaten team in six matches.
According to strict SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee requirements, the team had to win the tournament to qualify for the Olympics.
“There were tough times in Japan, but we pushed through and held our nerve,” Clarke said.
“Support played a big role in that and we can't thank our supporters enough.” – Sapa