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July 22, 2015 — The Road to Rio, previously traveled

This evening in Toronto, the United States women’s field hockey team advanced to the gold-medal match of the Pan American Games with a 3-0 win over Canada. That, plus Argentina’s 5-0 win over Chile, has created a situation similar to what occurred two years ago at the Pan American Cup.

The situation is that the U.S. will be playing the gold-medal match against Argentina, knowing that it will secure a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics no matter what it does.

Let’s figure out exactly what’s happened. Take the top six teams from both FIH World League Semifinals; the left column in the table below shows the top six from the Valencia qualifier; the right column is from the Antwerp qualifier. The six teams in red (the first three teams from each qualifier) earned automatic berths into the Rio Olympics. The six teams listed in black are the “contender” teams awaiting continental qualification results.

WLValencia Competition WLAntwerp
GBR 1st HOL
CHN 2nd KOR
GER 3rd AUS
ARG (3rd) 4th NZL (4th)
USA (8th) 5th IND (13th)
ESP (14th) 6th JPN (10th)

You’ll notice that we’ve inserted the world rankings for the “contender” teams. They will qualify in order of their world ranking depending on where they placed in the World League. That is to say, though Japan outranks India in world ranking, the Red Samurai are a slot behind the Eves in this ladder. The six contender teams may be bumped out of Olympic contention, depending on the results of the five continental qualifiers as well as the determination of Brazil’s eligibility for the Olympics.

In March 2014, Brazil failed to make the Pan American Games because it finished fourth in the South American Games, and as a result is not in the top 40 in world rankings. Since the Selecao did not meet either of these PAHF qualification standards, that qualified the seventh team on the ladder into the Olympics. As it turns out, that was Argentina. Last fall, South Korea won the Asian Cup, which means that the team qualified twice. This put the eighth ladder slot into play, which goes to the New Zealand White Sticks.

So, on Friday, if Argentina wins the gold medal at the Pan American Games, the Albicelestes will have qualified twice, so the ninth team on the ladder — the United States — qualifies for the Olympics. If the Americans were to win the tournament, the Applebees would qualify on their own.

Given the high-stakes matches promised in the FIH’s Survivor-esque layered qualification system, it is amazing that this is the third instance in which a continental title match is being contested in which both teams know they have qualified for a major world field hockey tournament before said match is even played.

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