In the Spotlight is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we take a closer look at the South African women’s team.
The South African Women are currently ranked 12th in the FIH World Ranking with 1175 points, the highest of any African nation. The South Africans have played in two previous Olympic Games, finishing ninth in 2004 and 10th in 2000. Outside of the Olympics, South Africa most recently competed at the Champions Challenge 1 in Dublin a year ago and finished a disappointing fifth place after a shocking loss in the quarterfinals left them out of medal contention.
The Road to London:
The South African women won the Africa Cup, which normally would automatically qualify them directly for the Olympics. However, the South African National Olympic Committee felt it was important that the team earn a place through the Olympic Qualification Tournament. The South African women went on to win the Road to London event in India as the only unbeaten team and claim one of the three qualification slots for the women’s Olympic tournament.
Players to Watch:
South Africa’s women’s team can be summed up in two words: Pietie Coetzee. The 32 year-old forward broke the world record for goals scored during the Champions Challenge 1 and now has more than 230 markers in her illustrious career. Coetzee is the heart and soul of the African team. In addition, captain Marsha Marescia is the bedrock of the team with nearly 250 caps for the South Africans. Marsha has three FIH All Star inclusions to her name, and swept up both the Player of the Final and Player of the Tournament awards at the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi.
Giles Bonnet is best-known for his role in what became the remarkable success story of Belgian hockey, having been the men’s head coach from 2001 to 2007. An FIH Grade 1 Coach, Bonnet turned to coaching in the late 1990s after playing internationally for South Africa, and has since coached not only the Belgians, but also some top Dutch men’s and women’s club sides as well as working with the Chinese teams before and through the 2008 Olympic Games. Since May 2010, Giles Bonnet has been the head coach for the South African team.
The South African women have had a rollercoaster year, with their Olympic qualification trials. But ultimately, the team stood firm in the face of adversity and still managed to make it to London for the Games. The experience is sure to help the South Africans come game time in London. A massive sponsorship deal with Investec has given the women’s national team a huge opportunity to be able to train and travel as a group in preparation for the Games. The hard work has so far paid off looking at the team’s strong performance to date at the Investec Cup in London, a key preparation event for the Games.
South Africa has a hard time finding meaningful competition within its own continent. Several players have well over 150 caps, but many of the games on their own continent are one-sided victories and do little to prepare South Africa for top-level competition. While the Investec sponsorship has given the team the ability to go out and find a higher level opponent, the team still lacks matches against top tier teams. At the Games, South Africa has finished at the bottom end of the standings in both of their appearances and has just one Champions Trophy under their belt. It’s one thing to make it to the Games, but it’s an entirely different thing to be successful there.
South Africa wants prove to its National Olympic Committee, and the world, that is deserves to be in London and can be competitive there. If Pietie Coetzee can put in a stellar performance, the South Africans have a chance to finish in the middle of the pack or even higher, but a medal will likely be elusive for the team that had to go the extra mile to get an invitation the party.