Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch has set her sights on retaining Great Britain’s status as Olympic hockey champions at Tokyo 2020 - but she could easily have been watching it on the sofa had she not re-found her love for the sport.
Having saved all of the Netherlands’ penalties in a shoot-out to win gold in Brazil, Hinch told Eurosport she struggled with the expectation of having to perform like a “superhero” after that - and moved to play in Holland with the intention of not putting on the pads for her country again.
Team GB’s win in Rio attracted arguably more hockey attention than ever before. The final was played on a Friday night and in a primetime slot for a UK audience. Victory on penalties was a narrative the British media played on - here was a team which finally came good, after years of woe for England’s football teams (this was before the success over Colombia at World Cup 2018.)
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The focus was on Hinch, whose shut-out of the Dutch team claimed the country a first ever Olympic women’s hockey gold. But although the team enjoyed their newfound stardom at first, she says it was difficult to maintain.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would come back, that was my gut feeling at the time,” said Hinch said on her move to Holland in 2018.
“Post Rio, I don’t think any of us saw what was coming and I think for myself individually, the character that I am, I’m very much a perfectionist and I want to do everything to my absolute best.
The attention after that final felt like I’d become some sort of superhero, so in my head I was thinking ‘I’ve always got to be this superhero otherwise I’m not living up to the level that’s required of me now’.
“I felt like this expectation to constantly be perfect which just does not exist. I drove myself into the ground and completely burnt out by trying to please everyone around me.
“Leading up to the World Cup, I dreaded the idea of not being able to live up to that hype again, in front of 10,000 home fans. I just didn’t handle it well, I didn’t know to, I couldn’t shut that side out that I’d never had to deal with before.
“When I left the set up I was pretty much at my lowest, I didn’t enjoy playing, I dreaded putting my pads on in this environment.
“I wanted to go to Holland, people knew me but I was a little fish in their eyes, they have multiple gold medallists playing there and I was just a baby to them. I wanted to go there and just run away from it all.
I didn’t see myself coming back. Having a break from the sport, and realising I do still love it and I do miss playing - it took 12 weeks running off to Australia to realise that.
“For sure, if I kept playing, my career probably would have been taken out of my hands, I would have started to play so badly that they probably would have dropped me so I’m so glad I took the decision to do that.”
Hinch says she started to realise she was up for playing again when she finally wanted to watch her team-mates on TV. She says her passion for the sport has been reignited and her mindset has changed - no longer is she someone who will run themselves into the ground. Instead, she knows when to stop.
But the 32-year-old is not sure when that will be for good. After the experience of Rio, Hinch is reluctant to set long term goals and says although Paris 2024 is a possibility, it is not on her radar right now.
“I take it one game at a time these days, I try to appreciate just playing another game,” she said.
“A lot of people ask if Tokyo will be the end, I mean I really just don’t know. As long as I’m happy, fit and healthy and giving my best to the group, I’ll keep playing.
If I stay that way after the summer, of course, a home Commonwealth Games is a huge draw to carry on. I would absolutely love for this group to stick together and to go on and do great things there. We are definitely heading in the right direction, whether or not that’ll be for the full Olympic cycle, I don’t know.
“There are a lot of young, talented keepers knocking at my door so I’ve got to work hard to stay there, but right now I am enjoying it and I’m playing well enough to earn that shirt.”
Hinch returns to international action on Wednesday and Thursday night with a double-header against Germany, before the EuroHockey Nations Championship next month. GB are in a unique situation there - having to break down as individual home nations while also preparing for the Olympics as a combined side.
Maddie Hinch was unbeatable in the Rio 2016 hockey final shoot-out
Image credit: Getty Images
She admits the team has a target on their back following their Rio gold, but she believes they can handle it.
“We’ve taken time to get comfortable with it and use it to our advantage, it’s very easy when things aren’t going so well to think ‘we are the Olympic champions’ - but there’s only seven of us left, there’s a different coaching team, so much has changed.
“As a senior group of players in the team, it’s very important to get the others to value how we had that edge over everyone else.
Teams do want to beat us a little bit more, but it’s a gift, not many teams get to go out and defend an Olympic title, that alone is a very cool thing to say.
“We need to embrace it, there’s a lot more attention and opinions of what we’re doing but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
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