RANDBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 04, Marsha Marescia of South Africa during the Investec Series Womens International Hockey match between South Africa and Belgium from Randburg Hockey Stadium on February 04, 2012 in Randburg, South Africa Photo by Lee Warren / Gallo Images

Last October I interviewed Gideon Sam about South Africa’s medal prospects at this year’s Olympics. In the midst of the discussion with the president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), we spoke about which teams were likely to make it to London and he mentioned how he hardly saw Marsha Marescia, the national hockey captain, at meetings of the athletes committee on which she serves because she’s always travelling.

Marescia and the rest of the national side were doing all that travelling in an attempt to get game time, become accustomed to playing tougher opposition and just building team spirit. Their travels took them to the Netherlands, Ireland Belgium and, of course, last week to India.

The criteria Sascoc set for them – and the men’s team – was stringent. They could go to the Olympics but they couldn’t do so by qualifying through Africa, because the standard of hockey on the continent isn’t very high.

And thus they found themselves in a qualifying tournament playing in the final of that event against host-nation India. Looking back, Marescia’s team controlled that final magnificently. They got an early goal, defended well, stuck away another opportunity late in the first half through the legendary Pietie Coetzee and having absorbed a torrent of pressure at the start of the second half, scored a third for the win.

It didn’t feel as comfortable watching it, though, but that probably had more to do with the general excitement of watching a live match and desperately wanting that team to win. All sportsmen (and in this case women), work bloody hard and to qualify for an Olympics requires enormous effort and sacrifice. Whereas the elite players – those who represent the national team – in rugby, cricket and football are all paid and receive hefty bonuses when they win, the women’s hockey side play for free.

That is not to begrudge the AB de Villiers’, Katlego Mphelas and Morné Steyns of this country for earning a living from their sport, but to say that there are sportsmen and women in the country who do what they do for the love of their sport and for the love of competition and do so with as much determination and endeavour as those who get paid the big bucks.

I know Marescia and her team will put this qualification behind them quickly and focus on the next step – securing a medal in London. It would be an extraordinary triumph for an extraordinary group of sportswomen who are deserving of the highest praise. – The Star