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Field hockey hopes for Golden Jubilee

By Amy Rosewater | June 06, 2012, 5 p.m. (ET)
Katie O'Donnell, Lauren Crandall
Kathleen O'Donnell and Lauren Crandall pose for a portrait during the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on May 13, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When the players on the U.S. women’s field hockey team think about London, their minds are on winning a gold medal. After all, Team USA has never won a gold medal in field hockey in the Games and these women would like to rewrite history. And, no doubt, they have their minds set on the X’s and O’s of their top opponents.

 Kate Middleton
With Kate Middleton promoting their sport in London, Team USA players hope to generate extra publicity
But when it comes to these Games, there is a special X factor: the potential presence of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

With the Games being in London this summer and with Middleton being a former high school field hockey player (and captain) who just so happens to be an ambassador for the 2012 Olympic Games, U.S. players are hoping their sport will receive more than its usual share of publicity this summer.

Middleton visited with Great Britain’s field hockey team last month and photos of the Duchess swinging a field hockey stick landed in places such as People magazine. When Middleton sports a certain designer’s dress, that style quickly becomes the latest fashion, so it’s only natural that field hockey players hope the Duchess’ touch will be golden in their sport, too.

As U.S. field hockey coach Lee Bodimeade said, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity. Maybe we should get the Obama girls some sticks, too.”

Middleton’s allegiance, obviously, will be with Great Britain, but her aura around the sport has won over Team USA players.

“I’m so excited for these Games,” said Katie O’Donnell, a star forward for Team USA, who noted that Middleton even displayed good field hockey form. “Kate Middleton is so popular. I think people are going to watch.”

“It’s huge for the sport,” added Katelyn Falgowski, a midfielder who made her Olympic debut in Beijing and is expected to be on the team again this summer in London. “Everyone follows her. I mean, who doesn’t? She’s the girl next door and she plays field hockey. That’s great.”

Unfortunately for Team USA players, their potential brush with British royalty will have to wait just a bit longer. While Middleton was celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this week, the U.S. field hockey players were busy training and competing in the Women’s National Championship at the University of Maryland.

Many of the players who will be competing together for Team USA this summer are actually competing against each other here as they represent their own regions for a national title.

The women are also vying for spots on the national team that will compete in London this summer. Overseeing the eight-day event is Bodimeade, and the 16-player U.S. Olympic team roster will be announced June 23. That is the same day Team USA will play its final Olympic tune-up game against Argentina in Virginia Beach, Va.

Bodimeade has his focus set on beating the teams in Team USA’s Olympic pool, which includes New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Australia and none other than Argentina. The United States meets Argentina in the second game in London. Since Great Britain isn’t in Team USA’s pool, the only way the teams would meet would be in the semifinals or a final.

Bodimeade, a silver medalist with the Australian men’s field hockey team at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, is excited to see the growth of the sport in the United States. The last time the United States’ women’s team earned an Olympic medal was a bronze back in 1984 when the Games were held in Los Angeles. Bodimeade has witnessed an explosion in the sport in the United States since then. Even though the Americans were eighth in Beijing, there is talk about them contending for a medal this time around.

And there will be plenty of fans in the stands. The sport is expected to be one of the highest-attended events in the 2012 Games.

With only 50 days until the Opening Ceremony, the U.S. women are doing everything they can to get ready.

“It’s coming around so quickly,” said Falgowski, who was the lone collegiate player on the team four years ago in Beijing. “It’s so different this time around, too. Going once is amazing, but you don’t really know what you’re in for until you go the first time. This time, we’re not going just to go for the competition. We’re going to win this time.”

The United States is excited about its prospects this time around, especially after it beat No. 1-ranked Argentina for the Pan American Games title back in October. Falgowski, who battled a knee injury throughout the tournament, was named the player of the game (a 4-2 victory for the United States, which was ranked No. 13). The United States had never beaten Argentina previously.

Four years ago in Beijing, Falgowski was a wide-eyed player who had just finished her freshman year at North Carolina. While in China, she took in everything, from participating in the Opening Ceremony to catching glimpses of Michael Phelps in the Olympic Village. She made a bit of time for sightseeing, touring the Great Wall of China and bargaining in shopping areas (even scoring a pair of pearl earrings for $1).

This time around, Falgowski hopes to take in some of London’s sites and might squeeze in watching other U.S. athletes compete. Since the U.S. field hockey team has been centralized at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., she has become fans of the other Team USA athletes, such as BMX cyclists, whom the field hockey players see frequently in the dorms and dining hall.

A huge fan of Harry Potter books, Falgowski is excited to go where the concept of Hogwarts was born.

And, perhaps, she’ll catch a glimpse of the Royal Family.

“It’s definitely possible,” Falgowski said. “I’d be surprised if Kate Middleton didn’t come to a game. Maybe it will be a U.S.-Great Britain final.”

If that scenario were to come to fruition -- and truth be told, it is not too likely -- all the advertising dollars in the world wouldn’t be able to buy the kind of publicity it would bring.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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