top of page
  • Writer's pictureElliot Mulley-Goodbarne

How London 2012 put Women's hockey on a path to success.

Credit: PA

Team GB's pursuit of success in Hockey had been one of frustration in the decades leading up to the home games in 2012.

Since the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, where the men won gold and its women competed for the first time, Team GB had only won one medal in the run up to the 2012 games in London; a bronze in Barcelona for the women.

Fortunes turned around after London was awarded the Olympics in 2005, with both GB teams making it out of the group stages in Beijing and into the Bronze medal match in 2012, where the women once again took bronze.

For many sports London was the pinnacle, the goal, that was the medal to get and certainly a case can be made that Team GB's swimmers, cyclists and track and field athletes hit their peak between the 27th July and August 12th 2012. But skip forward four years and 5,761 miles later to hear BBC commentators paraphrase Barry Davies' famous words from the 1988 gold medal match as Team GB's women win the first Olympic gold in their history, and 2012 can be seen as the stepping stone to glory rather than the summit.

"In the great, great words of Barry Davies: Where were the Dutch? WHO CARES!?"

"I was helped out by the Dutch fans, weirdly, as I was walking up to take that penalty" said Team GB's Helen Richardson-Walsh as she recalls the shoot out that decided the 2016 Olympic final.

"Normally it's silence and silence is horrible, it's last thing you want when you're walking up and you can just hear your thoughts.

"But the Dutch fans started booing for some reason which is really unusual for a hockey crowd, and it just made me think 'rights this is going in'."

Richardson-Walsh's penalty was the first of two converted in the shoot out after the final against the Netherlands ended 3-3 at the Deodoro stadium in the host city. Holly Webb scored the second that clinched the gold medal for Team GB but Helen said that, thanks to the boos perhaps, she was able to get out of her head and "just do it".

"With the Olympic gold at stake, if I had thought about that, in that moment, I would have been like jelly.

"But I do remember thinking, 'Do you know what, you've been playing this game now in the international team for 17 years, you've had a lot of highs, but many lows, you've dreamt about this moment for for an incredibly long time'.

"That almost relaxed me, almost made me think: 'Just do it. This is what you've trained so hard for for such a long time, now you've got the opportunity to make it happen'.

"And fortunately I did; somehow."

"I remember a meeting that we had back in February 2009 in the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, where we asked 'what do we want to do in London? What do we want to achieve?' And the answer was to try and win gold"

However, just over a decade earlier, success was a distant dream for Team GB's women. Following the bronze medal in Barcelona, Team GB once again reached the semi finals in Atlanta 1996, this time losing to the Dutch, but only managed one win in Sydney four years later and failed to qualify in 2004 when the Olympics returned to its mythological home in Athens.

"I think hockey in our country was rescued a little bit by the London Olympics" said the gold medallist, "because we were not in a very good place after Athens.

"The women hadn't qualified, the men hadn't done overly well, funding got cut by 70 percent and we were in a bad place. Then the next year, the London Olympics was awarded and so, thankfully, funding came back into the sport.

"So after Beijing, as a women's team lead by our coach Danny Carey, he said, we've got an opportunity now to change what we do, to become centralised and to train much better, much smarter.

"As a group of women, we decided, 'right, this is our opportunity, we have to grab this and I still remember a meeting that we had back in February 2009 sitting around in a circle in one of the meeting rooms in the Bisham Abbey, National Sports Centre. We said, 'Okay, what do we want to do in London? What do we want to achieve?' And the answer was to try and win gold."

The magnitude of Team GB's turn around is impressive to say the least. Although aided by funding coming from London being awarded the Olympics, Richardson-Walsh is quick to highlight the position Team GB was in before that decision was made in 2005.

"That gold was a long way off for many people in that room, bearing in mind we were ranked ninth at the time and we hadn't been on a world podium since 1992 as a Great Britain team but boy, am I glad we we did it."

Listening to Helen describe her experience, it's easy to see her love for the Olympic games and the unique way it's sports demand the attention of people who, in many instances, won't have otherwise discovered them.

"The beautiful thing about the Olympic Games is that you can be watching such random sports you've never seen, you barely know the rules, but you get behind these people because they're British, they're where you come from, they're representing you.

"I think during the Olympics, you get to hear some some of those stories of those athletes that you know nothing about. There are thousands of athletes out there who are working incredibly hard day in day out, giving absolutely everything for their country, just go to the Olympics and have even a thought of trying to win a medal at the Olympic Games.

"That is what's special about it, you start to hear those stories and you get to know these people and what they've been doing without anybody knowing. All the training, all the hours they put in and suddenly, this is their Limelight and you start backing them."

"There was a bit of dancing, a few speeches, that kind of thing. But actually we could really enjoy and savour that moment and I will always remember that night, just sitting there as an Olympic champion."

Unlike other athletes, that limelight lasted throughout the whole olympic games for the Hockey players. But with Team GB flying home three days after the final match on the 20th August 2016, Richardson-Walsh said that the celebrations were not as raucus as those other athletes might have had.

"You get the swimmers, who are done in the first week, go out for the second week, and try not to disrupt all the other athletes.

"But we had a couple of really good nights afterwards, there were a lot of our friends and family who were out supporting us and obviously it was great to be able to do it for all those people as well because they've been with us every step of the way.

"The first night was actually relatively quiet but, for me, it was perfect because we just went to this hotel really close to the village and on top of the roof of this hotel, with all our family and friends just having a quiet drink.

"There was a bit of dancing, a few speeches, that kind of thing but actually you could really enjoy and savour that moment and I will always remember that night, just sitting there as an Olympic champion."


This article has been written using quotes from a Test Match Special podcast interview with Helen Richardson-Walsh found here:

22 views0 comments
bottom of page