Host City: London, Great Britain
Venue(s): Riverbank Arena, Olympic Park, Stratford, London
Date Started: July 29, 2012
Date Finished: August 10, 2012
Format: Round-robin pools advance teams to classification round matches.
The two big favorites for the gold were Argentina and the Netherlands. The South American "Las Leonas" had claimed the 2010 world title on their home pitch in Rosario, beating the Dutch in the final. They had also claimed the Champions Trophy in 2009, 2010 and 2012. After silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004 and 2008, the Argentineans were now aiming for Olympic gold. Star player [Luciana Aymar], known as the "Maradona of hockey", was the country's flagbearer, signifiying their expectations. It's noteworthy that the team failed to qualify from the Americas via the Pan American Games, losing to the United States in the final. But as South Africa withdrew its direct qualification, Argentina was granted a spot on account of their #1 world ranking, thus avoiding having to play a qualification tournament. The Dutch were eager to retain their Beijing title. Since 2008, they had lost some of their veteran players, and had switched to an Argentine coach, Max Caldas. They had beaten Argentina in the 2011 Champions Trophy (after penalty strokes), and won the European title that same year. Much was also expected from the British women, who had made the final of the 2012 Champions Trophy, as well as traditional top nations Germany and Australia.
The Dutch team, who lost key defender [Willemijn Bos] to injury in the last practice match before the Olympics, won all of their pool A matches, albeit four of them with only one goal difference. The British also qualified for the semis, despite a loss to 2008 finalist China, which missed out on qualification due to disappointing results against débutants Belgium and Japan. In the other pool, things were very close. Argentina, New Zealand and Australia all had three wins and one loss, with Argentina having the best goal difference. After New Zealand drew with Germany in the morning, Australia needed to beat Argentina to win, but Las Leonas kept it to 0-0 to advance. For New Zealand, it was the first time their team reached the Olympic semi-finals - in 2008, they had finished last.
The semi-finals were closely contested affairs: New Zealand and the Netherlands drew 2-2 and duked it out in the penalty shoot-out. Dutch goalie Joyce Sombroek provided three saves to help her team advance to their third consecutive final. Argentina had taken a comfortable 2-0 lead, but had to fight off the British for the last five minutes after Alex Danson scored. In the anticipated final, penalty corners proved decisive. The first goal was somewhat controversial, as an earlier Dutch foul had been missed by the referees, but Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel's rebound goal counted. A few minutes later, penalty corner specialist Maartje Paumen put away the second goal, to earn the Dutch their third women's hockey title, the same number of titles as Australia. Of note, four members of the Dutch team were openly gay, the highest known number of any Olympic team: Paumen, Dirkse van den Heuvel, Kim Lammers and Marilyn Agliotti. The first two were even in a relationship together for some years, but this ended shortly after the Olympics.