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The home games: 1. Maddie Hinch

Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Maddie Hinch, hockey player
Maidenhead, UK

Maddie Hinch has given a lot to hockey. As well as the countless hours of training the Great Britain international goalkeeper has put in over the years, she spent an uncomfortable period in the spotlight after her remarkable, gold-medal-winning performance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But for a few unsettling weeks in March it seemed that she would have to sacrifice one more thing. “One of my housemates plays for the GB men’s hockey team,” she says. “He was always offering to go into the garden and smash some balls at me, which was good for training – but I really didn’t want to lose my windows.”

Hinch faced the choice between glass and glory during the UK lockdown. “We were waiting to fly to South Africa for a four-week training trip when lockdown was announced,” she says. “It was surreal, because we couldn’t see each other, we couldn’t train together but as far as we knew we still had an Olympics to prepare for.” It wasn’t until Tokyo 2020 was officially postponed that Hinch could let out a sigh of relief. “The not knowing was the worst time for me. Once it was decided, I could focus on what I could get out of this period.”

The first thing she got out of it was a gym, as her sponsors Red Bull transformed her garage into a training facility. With that, and the occasional session in her back garden, Hinch believes she came out of lockdown in the best shape of her life. But hockey is a team sport – and Hinch was unsure whether the spirit would survive. Like so many others across the country, the players turned to quizzes to keep up morale. “That period actually brought us closer together,” she says. “Training day in, day out, you can become quite robotic and see these people as just your teammates, but through doing a weekly quiz together on Zoom we ended up seeing each other in a different light.”

Hinch’s heroics at Rio 2016, particularly in the final shootout when she saved four penalties, securing Team GB’s win, saw her return to the UK as a national hero. But her newfound fame came at a cost. “Rio was fantastic, but life changed quite a bit for me,” she says. “I was in the limelight and I handled that badly. I was constantly trying to live up to the person that was plastered across the newspapers as a superhuman, and I’m not. That really took its toll on me emotionally.”

Despite being the International Hockey Federation’s Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Hinch decided her only option was to step away from the international game. She continued to play at club level, but would no longer represent her country. “I needed to miss it to realise what it meant to me. It’s the best job in the world but it’s relentless. It took me running away to Australia on my own to realise that I still wanted to do this,” she says.

Hinch returned in May 2019 determined to help the team, which has struggled for form since Rio, to qualify for Tokyo. They did so in November, via a play-off with Chile. Hinch believes that Tokyo 2020 shifting to 2021 could actually benefit the squad. “Given where our team is and the changes we’ve had, I can only see us coming out of this stronger,” she says.

Hinch believes that if the Games do go ahead in 2021 it will be a unique experience. “They will be particularly special, regardless of how they happen, just because we’ll be doing it after a global pandemic. I would love to be a part of that. It’d be something nice to bring people back together after what has been a really rubbish year.”

We hope you enjoyed this sample feature from issue #39 of Delayed Gratification

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