Hockey Events at the 2012 London Summer Olympics - dummies

Hockey Events at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

Hockey competition for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London will be held at the Riverbank Arena, a brand new facility built just for these Olympic Games. The competition takes place over 13 days, from July 29 to August 10, 2012.

Although its roots can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, modern hockey developed in England in the 1700s. Men’s Olympic hockey competition was introduced at the 1908 Olympic Games, which were also held in London. The British remain dominant in the sport to this day. Women’s hockey joined the Olympic line-up at the 1980 Games in Moscow.

The sport’s official name is simply “hockey,” but many people (especially Americans) refer to the land-based version as “field hockey” to avoid confusion: As one might suspect, it is very similar to its sister sport, ice hockey — except, of course, ice hockey is played on ice.

Regardless of the name, the play is the same. Opposing teams attempt to move a hard rubber ball (roughly the size of a baseball) downfield and shoot it into the net to score a field goal. The ball is handled with a long, flat stick that curves up at one end. In fact, the name of the game is derived from hocquet, a French word for “shepherd’s crook.”

Men’s and women’s medal competitions are identical:

  • Each qualifying country may enter only one men’s and one women’s team, for a total of 12 teams per gender.

  • The 12 teams are divided into two pools. The tournament begins with a round-robin competition within the pools; the best two teams from each pool move on to the semifinals. Winners of the two semifinal games then compete for the gold and silver medals; the losers play each other for the bronze.

  • A game or match consists of two 35-minute halves. The team with the most goals at the end of the match wins.

A field goal is only good if the player shot it from within the shooting circle, an arced area outside the opponents’ goal.

  • A team includes 11 players and 5 substitutes. The 10 play positions include attackers, midfielders, and defenders; each team also has a goalkeeper. Players may be substituted at any time in any position.

  • In the event of a rule infringement, players may be issued suspensions or penalties ranging from a brief “green card” 2-minute suspension to permanent “red card” ejection from the match.

The pitch, or field of play, is rectangular (55 meters wide by 91.4 meters long) with a goal net at each end. Olympic hockey was played on real grass until the 1976 Games in Montreal, but synthetic turf is now much more common. (In fact, the synthetic turf for the London 2012 Olympic Games will be colored blue — an Olympic hockey first!)

For more information and complete rules, visit the website of the sport’s international governing body, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), based in Lausanne, Switzerland.