If mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun, what does that make the U.S. women's field hockey team?
In a game starting at 11 a.m. Monday under a relentless sun that sent temperatures on the artificial turf to 115 degrees and higher, the U.S. women took a giant step toward the medal round with a surprising 3-2 victory over South Korea.
And again, it was a goal on a late penalty corner shot that rescued the United States, which had let a 2-0 halftime lead slip away. Team captain Barb Marois drilled the winning goal past Korean goalie You Jae-Sook with seven seconds left. In Saturday's opener, Marois' penalty corner was deflected into the goal by Marcia Pankratz in the last two minutes, giving the U.S. team a 1-1 tie with the Netherlands.
Monday's victory at Clark Atlanta University was worth two points, and the United States now has three in the round-robin portion of the tournament, better than many had anticipated. And although the U.S. team won the bronze medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, Monday's victory was only the third in Olympic play for the U.S. women. The '84 team won two games, lost two and tied one, then took the bronze by beating Australia in a special penalty-stroke competition.
"It was a great afternoon--morning?" a happy Coach Pam Hixon said. "It was a great day," she finally settled on.
"I think we really played the way we're capable of in the first half. Our emphasis over the past six months has been to develop our attack. . . . In the first half, we were able to put that into play.
"Our defense was strong again and [goalie] Patty Shea is absolutely outstanding. We knew Korea would come on in the second half. They just have the firepower to keep coming at you and coming at you and coming at you. . . . But we came on strong in the last few minutes."
Shea turned back the relentless Koreans time after time. She saved eight of 10 shots on goal, and Korea went scoreless on 11 penalty corners. A penalty corner is a free hit, after a pass-in, by an offensive player at least 10 yards from the goal. The goalie is allowed defensive help in the goal on such shots, but for a team as good as South Korea to miss 11 of them is unusual.
Shea, in fact, kept the United States in position to win with a diving save on the Koreans' last penalty corner, with 1 minute 6 seconds remaining.
"It was pretty much a routine save," she said nonchalantly. "Stopping shots, that's my job."
Even so, she was excited about the comeback.
"We stayed poised at the end," she said. "We held our poise in the last few minutes. . . . [The Koreans] like to come in waves, just straight down the field and drive the ball hard. But I knew [after her last save] that we could score. We were very calm."
And the heat?
Said Marois: "We have been training here in the heat and humidity for the last year. We're used to it."
Midfielder Tracey Fuchs, who had scored the second U.S. goal, set up the pass-in on the winning goal for Marois, who teed off and rifled the shot to You's right.
"I just put it down and Barb swung through it," Fuchs said.
Marois said the penalty corner had gone off just as practiced.
"Usually with a little time left, it's going to be a straight shot [rather than an angle shot]," she said. "I knew we had enough time to get it off. We didn't have to rush."
She said she knew she had scored when she heard the ball bounce off the backboards in the goal.
"I try to keep my head down," she said. "I know their goalie stays up [on her feet] so I just wanted to get it out of her reach."
What became a tense struggle had begun as a bit of a breeze for the United States.
"I think they were surprised by us," Hixon said. "I don't think they expected us to take the shots we took."
Not even five minutes into the action, Fuchs scored from 14 yards, lifting her shot over a defender's stick and past You's shoulder. Then, five minutes later, Pankratz caught You out of position, scored on a breakaway from six yards, and the United States had an unexpected 2-0 lead.
It held up through the half but when play resumed, the Korean women were on a mission.
Thirteen minutes into the half, Shea saved a penalty corner but the Koreans kept the ball in U.S. territory and scored less than a minute later on Chang Eun-Jung's shot. Then Lee Eun-Kyung beat Shea with a shot in the left corner with 8:45 left.
The United States, which had only four penalty corners, worked for the one that won the game.
"We weren't going to take a tie," Fuchs said. "We wanted a win. "The officials had been giving a lot of corners for pretty hard tackling, and I knew if I just came in hard and kept my stick on the ball, [the Koreans would] tackle me hard, and that's what happened."