RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A changing of the guard is underway in world hockey after the Rio Olympics were dominated by teams few had expected to make the podium.
Both the men’s and women’s gold medals were taken home by teams outside the world top five while defending champions Germany and the Netherlands failed to secure their third consecutive Olympic crowns.
Britain’s triumph over the top-ranked Dutch team on Friday earned them their first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey after they took bronze at London 2012.
The men’s gold-medal showdown was fought out between seventh-ranked Argentina and sixth-ranked Belgium a day earlier, with the teams having beaten hockey heavyweights the Netherlands and Germany respectively on their way to the final.
Long playing in the shadow of a much-celebrated women’s team, Argentina’s men leave Rio with gold, their first Olympic hockey medal. Belgium’s silver was their first hockey medal at the Games in 96 years, since they won bronze in Antwerp in 1920.
“One year ago nobody would bet on us and now we are here,” said Belgian captain John-John Dohmen.
A competition filled with upsets and tense matches was good news for hockey chiefs who were out to prove they deserved their place in Rio under the watchful eye of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Despite ticket sales of 630,000 making it the third biggest-selling event at the 2012 Games, hockey narrowly avoided being dropped from the Olympic roster in 2013 over concerns that organizers were not doing enough to engage new fans.
“In the past, you know, it was always the same names,” said Leandro Negre, president of the International Hockey Federation. “(It) is a fantastic example that we have to open the doors to everyone.”
Editing by Clare Fallon