U.S. field hockey team eyes Olympics

Coming off a gold-medal performance at the Pan Am Games, the United States now eyes the 2012 Olympic Games. Head coach Lee Bodimead discussed the team’s hopes and aspirations with usafieldhockey.com.

Q: What was the key to beating Argentina?

A: The key was being able to perform with what we identified in the game plan. Obviously, the Argentinians are very quick and like to attack and we needed to be able to capitalize on the possession that we had. Fortunately, we were able to do that.

Q: What did it mean to not only beat the world’s No. 1 ranked team but also claim gold at the Pan American Games for the first time in US history?

To play the best in the world and have the opportunity to win the tournament is something we wanted to take full advantage of. Being on the podium with the gold medal is a victory not only for the team but for everyone that has been involved in the development of the sport in the USA.

Q: What was the difference in the team this year than past years? USA has five silver medals and one bronze in the Pan American Games, but never a gold. How did it happen in 2011?

A: The previous results are not relevant to this team. They are simply outcomes of those previous games. We only had four returning Pan American players, which really means there is not much relevance to our previous outcomes. We knew we needed to play well and the final was the game that we focused on.

Q: Over the last three years, what changes have you seen in field hockey in the USA?

A: There is definitely an elevated level of skill on the team and we have further depth in the squad than ever before. We are all about having the ability to perform in big games and under significant pressure and we are getting a lot closer to achieving that.

Q: How comforting is it to know that you have great depth on your team? Losing veteran key players like Kayla Bashore Smedley and Amy Tran Swensen before the start of the tournament and still pulling off five victories and a huge upset in the finals certainly displays the strength within the team.

A: It would be very easy to look at the reasons for not being able to perform at the tournament with Smedley and Swensen left off of the roster at the last minute. However, it was never mentioned and it was never an issue for the team. We adjusted to what we had. Given the greater amount of depth currently on the team, we had the players that were able to pull off the victory.

Q: How did you celebrate the victory?

A: We went to one of the nicest hotels in Guadalajara to join families and friends that were at the Games to support us. It was great to have Executive Director, Steve Locke, on hand to join in on the excitement. It was great to celebrate with those that have supported our athletes throughout their careers. Carrie Lingo and Kayla Bashore Smedley, who were ruled out with injuries, made the trip to Guadalajara and were also on hand to celebrate which added a special moment for the players. I then got the first available flight out of Guadalajara back to San Diego to surprise my wife Samantha and two boys Mitchell and Oscar. As much as I would have loved to celebrate with the team, I had been away from my family for five weeks and Oscar and Mitch were upset I wasn’t going to make it to their school Halloween Carnival. To surprise my wife Samantha and my two boys was an incredibly enjoyable moment.

Q: When did it really hit you that you are going to the London Olympic Games?

A: I am not sure if it really hits you. We wanted to win the tournament and we knew the consequences if we did so. Knowing we had to beat the world’s No. 1 ranked team to do that presented a challenge we were ready for. I give tremendous credit to the athletes. They got the results we needed.

Q: What is the plan as we head into an Olympic year?

A: We had two game plans. One if we won the Pan American Games and another if we had to go to an Olympic qualifier. We are very confident in how we were able to build up to the Pan American Games and now we are confident in what we will implement building up to the London Olympic Games.

Q: What is the goal at the Olympics?

A: If you can beat the world’s No. 1 ranked team, you can certainly have your sights on a podium finish and that is where we stand. We didn’t attack the Beijing Olympic Games with the right attention that we needed to and that experience has set us up for a better preparation and performance in the London Games.

Q: You have been to the Olympics in Beijing as a coach and in past Olympic Games as a player. What is the experience like?

A: It is surreal experience. It is something you can talk about as much as you want but until you actually experience it in real life, you never fully understand enormity of the event.

Q: How much pressure is taken off of you and the team in not having to attend an Olympic qualifier in early 2012?

A: I’m not sure it has taken any pressure off really. It has enabled us to be very clear in our thinking and planning as we prepare for the Olympics. When you beat the world’s No. 1 ranked team, it brings on more pressure.

Q: What does the rest of 2011 look like for the team?

A: The Team will have some time off to be with their friends and family around the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of the Pan American Team will meet at the NCAA Final Four for a friendly game against the NFHCA senior all-stars. Some players will play in front of National Hockey Festival participants in Phoenix, Arizona the day after Thanksgiving. Following that, the team will reconvene in Chula Vista, CA for a short preparation period before a five game test series against Great Britain in early December. Great Britain is doing pretty well, they are currently ranked No. 4 in the world and we are very excited to play a series of games against them on our home turf.

Q: Will any cuts to the team be made before 2012?

A: Yes, we will cut the squad of 27 down to 24 after the Great Britain series as we look to ultimately focus in our 16-squad team that will travel to the London Olympics.

Q: When will the Olympic Team be selected?

A: The team will be announced following the completion of the Women’s National Championships next June.

Q: How bright is the future for the USA Women’s National Team with the majority of the players under the age of 22 and the average age of the team a young 24 years?

A: We are pretty excited with the direction the team is headed. We know that there are very good players coming through the pipeline and we have very good players that did not participate at the Pan American Games due to injury like Swensen and Bashore. Keli Smith Puzo is just coming off the birth of her second child and Carrie Lingo is coming back from knee surgery. There are a lot of strong players that are going to push hard for selection and that is going to drive an elevated performance for others on the team.