Over the history of the Olympic Games a number of teams have reached such heights that they can only be described as incredible. Tokyo 2020 revisits the stories of these unforgettable teams and this week we look at the incredible Dutch hockey team, who have dominated the sport for the best part of the last four decades.
How it started
In the illustrious and over a century old history of hockey, there are only a few countries that can be mentioned in the same breath as the Netherlands, be it in terms of their legacy, prowess, quality or sheer dominance in the sport.
The Netherlands have produced some great teams over the years but none have been as or more dominant than its women’s hockey team, who have been the ultimate side to beat at the Olympic Games, European Championships and World Cups.
To put the Netherlands women’s team’s success into perspective, you can compare its performance at the World Cup with the men’s side. The Dutch men’s team have played in 14 FIH hockey World Cup editions and won three titles (1973, 1990, 1998) while the women’s team have won the competition an astonishing eight times (1974, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1990, 2006, 2014, 2018) in the same number of attempts.
When it comes to the Olympic Games, the Dutch women have won three golds (1984, 2008, 2012), two silvers (2004, 2016) and three bronze medals (1988, 1996, 2000). Only a handful of teams in global sport have been as dominant as the Dutch women’s hockey team.
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The Netherlands have been the most dominant force in women’s hockey since the 1970s and they proved to be a class apart at the inaugural 1974 Word Cup in France, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final. They went on to win bronze at the next World Cup before snatching back the title in 1978 and then winning three consecutive titles in the 1980s (1983, 1986 and 1990).
While the team didn’t participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Netherlands won their first women’s hockey gold at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games but the next one would take 28 years to arrive.
The biggest wins
After winning the World Cup in 1990, the Netherlands team had a poor run at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, finishing sixth. The 90s brought about a dip in their form but while they couldn’t win a World Cup title or Olympic gold in that decade, they won Olympic bronze in 1996 and 2000.
The new millennium saw the introduction of Marc Lammers as coach and the team clinched silver at Athens 2004, winning all four group games and overcoming Argentina in the semi-final on penalties. Germany produced a strong performance in the final game which saw the Dutch team unable to turn around a 2-0 deficit and eventually lose out 2-1.
Lammers led his team to a World Cup win in 2006 and they went into the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the favourites to win gold. In China, the Dutch women’s hockey team began yet another decade of domination at the Olympic Games, smashing all opponents in a virtuoso performance on the world’s grandest sporting stage.
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During the group stage, Netherlands won all five games, scoring 14 goals while conceding just three. Argentina were toppled 5-2 in the semi-final while hosts China were left stunned by their opponent’s sheer quality in the final as Netherlands took home the Olympic gold after 24 years.
Four years later at the 2012 London Olympics, the team arrived as defending champions and were determined to keep their Olympic crown. They claimed wins in all five group stage games, letting in only five while scoring 12 goals.
The Netherlands made it to the final courtesy of a penalty shootout win over New Zealand to set up a final with arch-rivals Argentina after losing to them at the 2010 World Cup two years prior. Compact, solid and tactically brilliant Netherlands outclassed their South American opponents 2-0 to win their second consecutive Olympic gold and equal Australia as the most successful women’s hockey team in the Games’ history (three golds apiece).
The Dutch team couldn’t complete a hat-trick of gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics despite reaching the final in Brazil, settling for a silver medal after a heart-breaking loss in the final. Their dominance in the first decade of the 21st Century can be ascertained by the fact that they won a medal at all editions of the Olympic Games from 2000 to 2016, taking their overall tally to eight (three gold, two silver, three bronze).
At the World Cup, the Netherlands have been nearly unplayable in the last decade, winning two out of three titles (2014 and 2018) while finishing runners-up in the third (2010).
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The key players
The Netherlands have won eight World Cup titles, three Olympic golds and 10 EuroHockey Championship titles over a span of nearly five decades and have undoubtedly produced a long list of great players.
The early years (70s and 80s) saw the likes of Toos Bax, Suzan Bekker, Sophie von Weiler and Fieke Boekhorst rise through the ranks and become the best players in the world. Von Weiler even went on to coach the team for a brief period in the early 1990s.
The country's domination of women’s hockey in 21st century is reflected in the list of FIH Women’s Player of the Year Award winners, which has been won by a member of the Dutch team 10 times (level with Argentina). While Argentina’s Luciana Aymar, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, has won seven of her country's ten awards, the Dutch team have seen six players since 1998 named as the world’s best.
Mijntje Donners (2003), Minke Booij (2006), Naomi van As (2009 and 2016), Maartje Paumen (2011 and 2012), Ellen Hoog (2014), Lidewij Welten (2015) and Eva de Goede (2018 and 2019) have all been named as the world’s best players within a space of 17 years - a sign of Netherlands’ dominance in field hockey.
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Before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed, the Netherlands team had been performing exceptionally in the Women’s FIH Pro League, winning four out of its five games and firing in a sensational tally of 19 goals while conceding only five.
Going into next year’s Olympic Games, the Dutch will once again be one of the top contenders for the gold medal and - unsurprisingly - the clear favourite. The likes of Eva De Goede and Margot van Geffen are all determined to take back the gold they lost to the hands of Great Britain at the Rio 2016 Olympics.