A captain recalls: Zimbabwe’s golden moment

When people are asked to recall past winners of the women’s Olympic hockey competitions, there are some nations that just roll off the tongue. Netherlands, Australia, Germany are usually the first teams that spring to mind.

In 1980 however it was a very different team that took to the podium. A moment of hockey history was made when Zimbabwe stepped forward to collect their goal medal after a sweet 4-1 victory over Austria. 

The whole story is one of surprises, twists and turns. As a nation Zimbabwe had only existed for a few months after it had been declared an independent nation earlier that year. Prior to 1980, the country had been known as Rhodesia and had been under British colonial rule.

The recognition of Zimbabwe as an independent state meant the National Olympic Committee could ask for recognition by the IOC. This was granted and a very late invite to the Olympic Games in Moscow meant that the Zimbabweans could field a women’s hockey team in the competition.

Six teams lined up for the women’s hockey competition. These were: Austria, Czechoslovakia, India, Poland, the Soviet Union and Zimbabwe. The African team had only learnt they were able to participate three weeks ahead of the opening ceremony.

In preparation, the team played against local men’s teams. On arrival in Moscow, the athletes realised they didn’t have the correct shoes for the surface as they had never played on an artificial turf before. This called for a mad dash to buy new shoes. 

The new surface and lack of preparation didn’t seem to hinder the Zimbabwe team. They beat Poland 4-0 in the opening match before grinding out a 2-2 draw with Czechoslovakia. Another 4-0 victory against the home side was followed by a tough match against India. This resulted in a 1-1 draw and so the team entered the final game against Austria.

Zimbabwe took the lead through Sandy Chick but a penalty stroke meant Austria were able to level the score just before half-time. Patricia McKillop, who was the tournament’s top scorer, gave her side the lead again in the 51st minute before both she and Gillian Cowley put the game out of the Austrian’s reach. 

                              

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