The Kookaburras fly high in Tokyo
While the Australian Men’s Hockey Team were unable to leave the Tokyo Olympics with a gold medal, they had a commendable tournament which resulted in silver.
The Kookaburras finished their pool games with four wins and one draw before progressing to the finals where they looked like the team to beat.
Unfortunately, the world number one Kookaburras lost to the world number two Belgium in a penalty shootout after the gold medal match resulted in a 1-1 draw.
SASI graduate Tom Wickham, who had been one of the shining stars for the Kookaburras throughout the tournament, scored Australia’s only goal for the match which gave his team a glimpse of hope.
Scoring a goal for the team in the final added to Wickham’s impressive run in Tokyo where he finished the tournament scoring six of Australia’s 28 goals.
The Morgan born and raised forward has been playing for Australia since 2013, however he wasn’t originally picked in the squad of 16 to travel to Tokyo.
SASI Head Hockey Coach Hugh Purvis explained the selection process for the Kookaburras squad.
“They announce a 27-man squad annually, and this year’s squad was selected in November 2020,” said Purvis.
“The squad have had minimal international playing opportunities this year, so the selections have been based off the training environment and competitiveness within their home base in Perth.
“Earlier this year, Australia announced a 22-man squad to travel to New Zealand for a three-game series, where the Kookaburras claimed a clean sweep over their trans-Tasman rival.”
Wickham was a member of the 22-man squad and even won player of the match in one of the three games.
“Tom had played some really good hockey in the New Zealand series, however when the Kookaburras narrowed the team down to their 16-man Olympics team in June, he was named as one of the two reserves,” Purvis explained.
“It would’ve been very disappointing for Tom just missing out on making the squad.
“However, given the situation in Tokyo, they introduced a new rule less than two weeks before the Olympics that the reserves could be used throughout the tournament, meaning Tom would be part of the team.
“It’s quite the resilient story!”
The 31-year-old played in all but one of the Kookaburras’ games in Tokyo, scoring in five of them, including the quarter-final where he scored both of Australia’s goals to send them to a penalty shootout and inevitably win the game.
Purvis has been impressed with the determination Wickham has shown throughout his career, saying it is a testament to his character.
“Tom is a super talented South Australian athlete who’s played and lived across the country and done it all in pursuit of the dream,” the SASI Head Hockey Coach said.
“To have the setbacks he’s had and be in and out of the national squad, to now consolidating his spot is a really impressive feat.
“Full credit to his resilience for getting through the highs and lows of sport.
“Tom’s pursuit of performance and achievement has really paid off and he ended up having an outstanding tournament in Tokyo.”
In terms of the Kookaburras performance at the Games, Purvis was positive about the result.
“The men have consistently been world number one for years and the Olympics is the pinnacle event,” Purvis explained.
“I’m excited by the performances in Tokyo - they played each opposition tactically really well and have outstanding fundamentals that allow them to play a winning style against each team.
“Belgium are a fantastic squad who were just the better team on the night…silver is still a valiant effort.”
The Kookaburras have now won a medal in seven of their last eight Olympics which is the most out of any country in the world.
While winning medals at the Olympics is great, Purvis says there is more to the Kookaburras’ success than winning medals.
“For the high-performance programs in Australia it means a huge amount in terms of earning funding, but also to the exposure to grassroots hockey and growing the sport for the future leading up to Brisbane 2032,” said the SASI Head Hockey Coach.
The Kookaburras and SASI graduate Tom Wickham have had a tournament to remember in Tokyo. No doubt they’ll be hungrier than ever for gold in Paris 2024!