By Scott Malone
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Four years after finishing last at the London Olympics, the U.S. women's hockey team are hoping a revamped training program will help exorcise the ghost of that performance and perhaps earn a spot on the podium in Rio de Janeiro.
"A lot can happen within four years ... although we finished last, we're still writing our own script and come Aug. 6 we'll be writing a new chapter," said Katelyn Falgowski, a 27-year-old mid-fielder and three-time member of the U.S. Olympic squad.
The team have not reached an Olympic podium since 1984, but are currently ranked fifth in the world, an improvement some players attribute to a training schedule that required players to attend three weeks each month of practice in the years leading up to the Aug. 5-21 Rio Olympics.
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"That's drastically different from what we've done," said Julia Reinprecht, a 25-year-old defender set to make her second appearance at an Olympic Games alongside her older sister, Katie, a mid-fielder.
Prior to the London Games, the team's practices were confined to more distinct blocks of time throughout the year, other than in the immediate buildup to the Games, she said.
The results have paid off with the team nabbing gold medals over the past three years in the Pan American Games, Champions Challenge and 2013 World League Round 2 played in Rio.
"What 2012 offers us is quite the experience," said Reinprecht. "I mean we finished last, there was a big learning element there."
The team's first match is on Saturday against frequent rival Argentina, which gives some advantage of familiarity, said Lauren Crandall, a 31-year-old defender who will be making her third Olympic appearance.
"It's going to be a high-energy game. Argentina is very talented, very fast," said Crandall. "This is international competition. We're at the Olympic Games and everyone's vying for a podium finish."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)