Laureus Olympians: GB hockey captain on how London 2012 could finally be her team's gold medal year
London, May 18, 2012
Earlier today, the Great Britain women’s hockey squad was finally announced for this Summer's London Olympic Games.
To mark the occasion, the player chosen to lead the team this Summer was in central London to open the day's trading at the London Stock Exchange.
And that person is the very same who has led the women's team for almost ten years now: Kate Walsh
Talking to Laureus.com ahead of the announcement, Kate (pictured) spoke about her career, what hockey has meant to her in life and her belief in how positive a tool sport can be for young people across the world.
At 31, Kate has been playing for Team GB a remarkable 12 years. And having played at three separate Olympic Games it’s not surprising this time has given her incredible highs, even though they have been tempered by terrible lows as well.
Kate made an incredible impact at the 2000 Sydney Games just months after her international debut aged 19. And this was despite not believing she would play much at all.
She said: “The coach was really up front with me before we went and said: ‘The likelihood is you’re only going to be playing 5-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, each half.’ But after 15 minutes [of the first game] he was like: ‘On you go.’ After that I played the whole time.”
The experience was, as she admits herself, a “daunting” one for the young hockey player, and life in the Olympic Village that summer was much the same.
“I think it was on the first day when I was in the canteen, getting my stuff,” Kate recalls, “and… you know when you stare at someone and are like ‘I know you, I feel like we’re friends’ and then you realise it’s Monica Seles! I was like ‘oh, how embarrassing.”
Just three years later Kate’s natural on-pitch leadership qualities were rewarded with the captaincy of the national team. She was still only 23 years old.
But what should have been the most rewarding peek of her career, turned out to be its lowest point.
Kate’s team failed to qualify for the 2004 Athens Games; the first time a GB women’s team had not made it to a Summer Games in a generation.
Making no attempt to hide the tears swelling in her eyes, Kate said: “I still get upset just thinking about it. It was just devastating. I think looking back with hindsight it began the year before, 2003. There were a lot of changes in the coaching staff … and the team suffered because of that. And I was a very young captain and at that time I was unaware really of the job I had to do.
“What stays with me now is how there were members of the team maybe 10 years older, who I’d been watching at the Olympics growing up, and had to escort off the pitch because they just didn’t want to leave, they didn’t want to believe what had just happened. That stays with me and fuels me now to right those wrongs.”
And she remains confident that those wrongs can be righted this summer in London.
She said: “I’ve seen some awful times in my career as a hockey player but having recently won the bronze at the world cup in 2010, which is the first time a British team has done that at the event, we’ve already made history.
“So it’s not like we’re turning up at the Olympics saying ‘because it’s the Olympics we’re able to win a gold medal,’ we think that because we’ve been building up slowly to it.”
This confidence seems a long way off from the girl who first started playing hockey in her youth.
“I was a really shy child,” Kate said, “and [by playing] I became a different person. I wouldn’t be that person without sport.”
But whereas Kate’s intention had always been to reach the top of her chosen sport, she is keen to express how sport needn’t necessarily be just about becoming the best.
Kate said: “I have been really fortunate to travel quite widely with hockey and travelling to some really poor areas in South Africa and Argentina.”
And it was here that she saw first-hand what sport can mean to young people of these disadvantaged communities.
She goes on: “They’ve got hockey sticks and balls and the enjoyment on their faces, you know, the day to day grind of daily life for them is so hard and for them to have a release, to have an hour where they can be free to go play with their friends, it’s such a freedom.
“[This is why] Laureus is so brilliant, using all these sports that they do throughout the world gives children these opportunities, often to children who didn’t have these already.”
And it remains her hope that the benefit of sport this summer from the London Games can similarly deliver a lasting legacy for both the city and the country at large.
She said: “I hope lots of opportunities are made available, especially for young people. I also hope the Olympic park doesn’t become a ghost town in London and that it thrives, that jobs become available and arenas are get used again.”
But with the squad finally confirmed today, all thoughts are understandably with the team’s performance in a few months’ time at the main event.
And looking ahead to the Summer Games, she said: “We are ranked 4th in the world now and we’ve just come back from the Champions Trophy in Argentina in February where we got the silver medal, so we very much believe we can win gold and we’re going with that intention.
“If we can get to semi-finals, then I think we can get gold.”