BY JEFF FALK
The Olympics only come around once every four years. And for many of the world-class athletes who compete in them, they only come around once in a lifetime.
So given an opportunity to compete in two Olympic games, Amy Tran-Swenson sees herself as truly fortunate and blessed. But that’s not why she’s treating the London games as possibly her last Olympic experience.
That’s just the way she leads her life. Tran-Swenson truly lives in the moment, she cherishes each experience as a gift and rarely takes anything for granted.
Tran-Swenson is recognized as one of the top – if not the finest – female field hockey goalkeepers in the world. As she goes, so goes the fortunes of the United States field hockey team at the London Olympics.
“I really like the Olympics and what it stands for,” said Tran-Swenson, by phone from San Diego recently. “It’s striving for excellence. Faster. Higher. Stronger.
“I’d be pretty old to be in the next Olympics,” Tran-Swenson continued. “But you never say never. As an athlete, you never want to limit yourself. After these Olympics, I’ll be focusing on a few other things. I’m ready to start a family with my husband Mark. But right now, I’m focused on the London Olympics team and our competition there.”
Tran-Swenson, 31, is a native of Grantville, graduates of Northern Lebanon High School and the University of North Carolina and an eight-year veteran of international competition. She back-stopped the United State to an eighth-place finish at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“We hope to win one game, seven times in-a-row,” said Tran-Swenson of the USA’s aspirations in England. “We’re trying to focus on our first game with Germany. They’re a very talented team. We are very lucky because the pool we’re in, we have a lot of game-experience against all the teams. We sort of know what we’re going up against.
“The key for us is just coming together as a team,” Tran-Swenson added. “Each player performing her own individual role and just doing the best we can. We have to be confident. If you’re confident, you can attack each game.”
The Olympics will kick off on Friday with the opening ceremonies. NBC’s coverage of the London Games will include all five of the United States women’s field hockey team’s pool contests.
Other members of the United States’ Group B include Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. Following pool play, the semifinals will be contested on Wednesday August 8th, while the bronze and gold medal matches are scheduled for Friday, August 10th.
“Being a goalkeeper, communication is a big part of what I do,” said Tran-Swenson. “I try to help the players around me. I’m trying to stay steady for my teammates. My role is not to go too high or too low. We’re young, but we all take a bit of a leadership role.
“Most goalkeepers take a lot of responsibility in goal,” Tran-Swenson added. “If you take a lot of responsibility you become a leader. Each of us is a leader in our own way. If we don’t try to do too much, we’ll be successful. Our strength is really our team. We don’t have any studs. Each player is a great player. We work well as a team and don’t depend on only a few players.”
While most of Tran-Swenson’s recollections of Beijing and 2008 are memorable, not all of them are pleasant.
“In 2008, the whole team was going to the Olympics for the first time,” said Tran-Swenson. “And the Olympics can be very overwhelming. The opening ceremonies were my biggest memory. Performance-wise, we hung in there with every team, but we weren’t able to get an edge and we ended up with a lot of ties. We lost the last game, so we were bitter. We’re very proud to have gone, but disappointed we didn’t do better. This year, seven of us are second-time Olympians.”
The rush that Tran-Swenson experienced representing her country four years ago was something that could never be duplicated. But one she will relive on Friday.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” said Tran-Swenson. “There’s so many great emotions. It’s such a great time. You’re almost in tears during the opening ceremonies when you’re walking around the track. When you hear everyone chanting, “USA” it’s remarkable how proud you are. It’s really amazing. And hearing the national anthem at our first game is going to be really emotional. We’re all brought together by the patriotism we have.
“That’s the most memorable thing from 2008,” Tran-Swenson added. “There’s so many things about the Olympics. We’re very lucky because we have a huge group of supporters coming over to watch us.”
Individually, Tran-Swenson has played a role in a revolution in American field hockey.
Field hockey hasn’t always been an Olympic sport for women, and to this day the sport still isn’t played everywhere in the United States. Though not as popular as some of the other Summer Olympic sports, USA claimed an unexpected bronze medal in the 1984 Games.
The United States did not compete in the 2000 or 2004 Olympic Games.
“I do think our team is on a little bit of an upswing,” said Tran-Swenson. “I think the future looks really bright. We have high hopes for the future. Things are looking really good.”
Although Tran-Swenson grew up in one of the so-called ‘field hockey hot-beds’ in this country, she could never have imagined the heights she would reach in the sport.
“No, I don’t think I did,” said Tran-Swenson. “I didn’t even realize hockey was in the Olympics at that point. I had amazing support and coaching in high school. I remember my goal in high school was to be all-state.
“I think it was college that opened my eyes to the national team,” Tran-Swenson continued. “Back in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t in my head. My dad saw field hockey as a way to get a college education. As an elementary student I can remember him saying, ‘You have to go to college’, because he couldn’t pay for it.”
United States Women’s Field Hockey Team’s Olympic Schedule
Sunday – vs. Germany, 4:15 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Tuesday – vs. Argentina, 2 p.m. (MSNBC)
Thursday, Aug. 2 – vs. Australia, 5:45 a.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, Aug. 4 – vs. New Zealand, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Monday, Aug. 6 – vs. South Africa, 5:45 a.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Wednesday, Aug. 8 – Classification (7th-8th, 9th-10th) and Semifinal Rounds (NBC Sports Network)
Friday, Aug. 10 – Classificiation (5th-6th, 11th-12th), Bronze and Gold Medal Games (NBC Sports Network)