The Sunday Mail
SARAH ENGLISH remembers it all vividly. “We were the first female hockey team, the first in field hockey representing a new Zimbabwe. We had no experience on the international platform.
“Furthermore we were used to playing on grass. Yet getting to Moscow was our first experience to play on artificial turf. It was such an exciting experience,” recalls a member of the Olympic gold medal winning hockey team that represented the country at the 1980 Moscow Games.
Coached by Anthea Stewart, the team comprised of English, Arlene Boxhall, Maureen George, Ann Grant, Susan Huggett, Patricia McKillop, Brenda Phillips, Christine Prinsloo, Sonia Robertson, Helen Volk, Linda Watson, Liz Chase, Sandra Chick, Gillian Cowley and Patricia Davies. With very little expected of them, the Zimbabwean team, known as the Golden Girls, shocked the world as they powered their way to gold.
The team which was invited at the last minute following the withdrawal of a bloc led by the United States of America beat the hosts and Poland, drew with Czechoslovakia and India before confirming gold with a last day 4-1 win over Austria. The triumph was made more impressive by the fact that the team had little time to prepare and were using the artificial turf for the first time.
And English, who is comfortably settled in Harare, says the team felt proud to be representing Zimbabwe without even worrying about how they would perform.
“At that time Zimbabwe didn’t have its own national anthem. They played the Olympic anthem that’s all. But there was the Zimbabwean flag and we were proud. Walking into the opening and closing ceremonies was an incredible experience. It was an honour to have represented the nation. “Before the first match there had not been any expectation from our opponents and even ourselves. Just being there representing our country was the ultimate that any athlete desires whether you win or lose a medal,” said the 59-year-old.
“Being part of history making was a proud moment. Telegrams came from all cultures and people. It made us realise how important it was because nothing had prepared us for any of the things that happened there.
“When we arrived at Harare International Airport, it had been closed from the public for us. And the tarmac was opened for well-wishers who wanted to congratulate us. “Now the older you get the more you realise how important it is. You can’t separate the Independence with the golden moments. Moscow reminds us of 1980, for every reason 1980 is important.”
An online note says: “The 1980 Zimbabwe women’s national field hockey team won the gold medal in women’s field hockey at that year’s Summer Olympics. The squad of 16 women, all from Zimbabwe’s white minority, was assembled less than a month before the Olympics began to help fill the gaps the American-led Olympic boycott created in the women’s hockey competition. Zimbabwe’s subsequent victory in the round-robin tournament with three wins and two draws was regarded as a huge upset, particularly considering the team’s lack of preparation and experience; it has been called an “irresistible fairy story”. Won at a time of great political transition in Zimbabwe, the gold was the country’s first Olympic medal of any colour. English, who is now into accounting, disclosed that although only six members of the 1980 team are currently residing in Zimbabwe, the Golden Girls still meet often.