Johannesburg - The bulk of the South African men’s hockey team leave for Japan on Thursday with one mission in mind, to clinch the last remaining spot available at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The final Olympic Qualifier Tournament takes place at Kakamigahara in Japan from April 26 to May 6, where head coach Gregg Clark’s side have to win the gold medal for South Africa to qualify for the July 29 to August 14 Olympic Games.
While the contingent leaving from Johannesburg will arrive at their tournament base in Kakamigahara on Friday, the overseas-based players will only arrive later as they have European club commitments to fulfil this weekend.
SA captain Austin Smith and Rhett Halkett are at Den Bosch in Holland, Justin Reid-Ross and Lloyd Madsen play for Pinoke in Amsterdam; Belgium clubs enjoy the services of Clinton Panther, Taine Paton (both Gantoise) and Jonty Robinson (Braxgata), while Ian Haley plays for Exeter in England.
Although the SA team last played in late February, when they beat Austria - one of their opponents in Japan - the home-based and overseas players have been working hard to ensure they will be in peak condition.
"We won the bronze medal at the Champions Challenge in Randburg in early December, beating higher-ranked Argentina in that play-off match," Clarke said.
"We have drawn a series against world number four Great Britain in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, beaten Austria, and beat India in India for the first time ever in the series in New Delhi earlier this year.
"The majority of our matches have been against higher-ranked opponents and this ambitious team, which I have described as the golden generation, is ready for the challenge in Japan."
Top-ranked South Africa (world number 12), hosts Japan (15th), China (17th), Austria (21st), Czech Republic (23rd) and Brazil (42nd) will be competing for the last remaining ticket to London.
SA Team: Austin Smith (capt), Andrew Cronje, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Ian Haley (all Western Province); Wade Paton, Lloyd Madsen, Tim Drummond, Marvin Harper, Taine Paton (all KZN Coastal Raiders); Rassie Pieterse, Michael Smith, Lance Louw, Thornton McDade, Clint Panther (all Southern Gauteng); Jonty Robinson, Rhett Halkett, Justin Reid-Ross (all Northern Blues); Julian Hykes (Amatole-Border).