First Olympic Appearance: 1908 (men), 1980 (women)
by John Gettings and Mark Zurlo
Did You Know?
India has won eight gold medals at the Olympics - all of them in this event. From 1928-56 India won six consecutive gold medals in men's field hockey, winning all 24 Olympic matches it played during that span while outscoring their opponents 178-7.
Historians agree that this sport was being played by civilizations that predate the Ancient Olympic games by more than 1,000 years. Drawings on ancient Egyptian tombs offer evidence that this was the first of all the stick-and-ball sports.
The current form of the game gained popularity throughout the British Empire in the 19th century, especially in the region that includes India and Pakistan. The 2000 Sydney games saw elimination of the offsides rule, formally rescinded by the International Hockey Federation in 1998 to foster improved scoring.
The game is played on an artificial turf field that is 100 yards by 60 yards. The goals are seven feet high and 12 feet wide (a soccer goal is one foot taller and twice the width). In front of each goal is a semi-circle measured 16 yards from each goal post. All scoring must happen from within this area called the goal circle.
Each team has 11 players on the field (including a goalkeeper) and the objective is to score goals in the opponent's net. The team with the most goals after two 35-minute halves, wins. Actual game play looks a lot like a soccer-ice hockey hybrid except that:
- Players are only allowed to use one side of their stick to hit the ball.
- Lifting the ball or the stick too high, other than to shoot, is discouraged.
- Shielding of the ball with one's body is not allowed, rather all players must be given an equal chance to gain control of the ball as it is dribbled or passed down the field.
At London 2012, both the men's and women's 12 teams are divided into two pools of six, and each team plays every other in their pool. The top two teams in each pool qualify for the semi-finals, the winners of which go head-to-head for the gold. The other teams in the two groups play each other to determine final placings. Competition will take place at the temporary Riverbank Arena in the Olympic Park which houses a practice pitch as well as a colorful competition pitch whose field of play is, for the first time in Olympic history, blue with a pink surround to better spot the yellow ball.