07/30/2012 04:42 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Olympic field hockey enters blue period with turf switched from green in fan-friendly move

LONDON - For the first time in Olympic history, field hockey players are tangled up in blue.

The field at Olympic Park is now blanketed in an electric blue surface with a hot pink border. The eye-catching colour scheme fits right in with the London Games and is grabbing some attention for a fringe sport that could use all the help it can get.

In hopes of making the game easier to watch for spectators, the London Games has ditched the stale green of the traditional pitch in favour of an electric blue number with hot pink trim.

Riverbank Arena's snazzy new look seems to be making a good first impression.

"It's something different, eh?" South African midfielder Wade Paton said on Monday after a 6-0 loss to Australia. "Especially when the sun is shining and reflecting off the turf. But it's flippin' loads of fun."

That's been field hockey's issue for years — how to separate itself from the other far more popular games played on green fields with white balls. So officials swapped out the white ball for a neon yellow version and dressed the field in an eye-catching colour scheme that co-ordinates with the London Games.

"I think it's awesome to see the aerial views of the whole Olympic venue and to see hockey and to have it stand out instead of just being a grass field that could be football or could be cricket or it could be anything," Australian defender Mark Knowles said. "So I think it's a really good for hockey."

The blue hockey fields have started popping up in the years leading up to London as players tried to prepare for the new environment. The Australians have been practicing on a blue field all year, but the South Africans had only played a few exhibitions on it in Madrid before coming to London.

"When we've been looking at footage of blue turf and we go back to looking at footage of green turf, the guys are all a bit surprised to see that," South African midfielder Austin Smith. "I think the transition is really smooth. It's a nice change."

The field looks striking, both live and on television, and the yellow ball is easy to see, even when it's surrounded by a group of sticks whacking at it.

"What we learned is there was a desire to go with a different colour scheme and to make it bring in the look and the colour scheme of the games. So you're seeing that element of it," said George Hamilton, vice-president of Olympic operations for Dow Chemical, the top sponsor of the games that helped develop the new turf.

"But also to make it a better experience for the spectators. The yellow ball makes it easier to follow than the white ball on a green grass."

The designers also worked to make the field as flat as possible, allowing for true passes from stick to stick, and softer to cushion the fall when players throw their bodies at a ball to keep it out of the net on a penalty corner.

"For us it doesn't really make much of a difference," Australian midfielder Simon Orchard said. "I've seen it on the telly and it looks awesome. I think that's it, an esthetics thing. It's good for the crowd and the stadium itself is brilliant."

Many of those tuning into field hockey during the Olympics are doing so for the first time, maybe some out of curiosity to see what this blue field is all about. But even some who have been watching for years find it jarring at first.

"It's a bit extreme," said Andy Sugden, wearing a British flag and watching Pakistan-Spain from the stands. "It's the pink that throws me. The blue, I can cope with. The blue is good. The pink, not so sure about. There is a contrast, there is no doubt."

If they're coming just to see the turf, that's just fine with Knowles. He hopes they'll stay for the action.

"Just people talking about it is a great thing. Normally we get, 'Aw yeah, it's hockey or whatever,'" Knowles said. "Now we get, 'It's hockey with that awesome blue pitch and the pink on the outside.' I think it's great."

The colour scheme was less popular at this year's Madrid Open tennis tournament, where superstars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic told officials they would not return until the new blue clay was jettisoned for the more traditional red clay.

Perhaps this is just the beginning.

"You never know what the people have in mind," South African defender Rhett Halkett said with a chuckle. "We could see a pink basketball court at any time."


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