Rio gold medal winner Hinch: I'm average - but I'm going to Tokyo
Maddie Hinch admits she wouldn't have made Team GB for Tokyo without accepting being average, writes Tom Harle.
Hinch was the hero between the sticks in the Rio shootout that crowned Britain women Olympic hockey champions for the first time. Her saves were watched by ten million but a sudden outpouring of public acclaim sent the 32-year-old into a very private tailspin and mental health issues.
She stepped away from international hockey in 2018, came back in 2019 and strides towards Tokyo in 2021 with a new perspective.
"Rollercoaster is definitely the best way to describe the last five years," said the West Chiltington-born ace. "We weren't prepared to win in Rio. We believed we could win but never spoke about what would happen if we did win. None of us had agents, we weren't set up for what came.
"I certainly wasn't. We had that ultimate high, and it also went on and on. We lived on the high for the rest of that year and then, naturally, there are other things to talk about it and it dies down. When you taste it, you have to go out and find it again and you're chasing something that's almost impossible to grab.
"I felt like I had to be a superhuman every time I stepped on the pitch and only perfect would work. I've never been perfect, I always let in crap goals leading into the Olympics. All that got forgotten because of the medal. They were the demons I was fighting, those highs and lows and it's been tough.
"A lot of players retired after Rio and then we found ourselves back to where we were when I started my career, down to fifth and sixth in the world after winning Olympic gold. It's tough, and it has been a tough cycle. I think these experiences are going to help at the end of the day for when that moment comes and I hope it's this summer."
Hinch's self-diagnosed habit of letting in soft goals before the Games saw her make a high-profile error at the recent European Championships in Amsterdam. Belgium breached Hinch's rearguard in the final minute to hold England to a 1-1 draw and send them crashing out at the group stage for the first time ever at the event.
The West Sussex-born star took to Instagram to decry negative social media comments she received after the blunder. "There are days when I want to delete all my social media," she added. "There are others days when it's the biggest pick-me-up ever, because you see the level of support you have around you, so I have mixed feelings on it.
"It's not been a factor in my mental health stuff, it's been something that I've had to manage and has grown since Rio. Social media is unfortunately a place where people can just say what the hell they want. I just felt the need to remind people to have a think before they post."
Hinch's return was one of the bright spots in a difficult Olympic cycle for the reigning champions, featuring mass retirements, injuries and a coaching change in 2018. The household names are missing, but Hinch is one of seven returning gold medallists with a role in guiding nine Olympic debutants through an intense title defence.
"We want to be proud of what we deliver and if we can do that consistently, we'll come home with a medal and we'll be in the hunt," said Hinch, whose Team GB exploits will be broadcast live on Eurosport and discovery+.
"I just want us to be proud of what we put out there and didn't fear it and left no stone unturned. We don't want to come home and think we bottled it."
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