Some of the heroes of Rio 2016 are on show in London over the next fortnight as the best hockey players on the planet contest the women’s hockey World Cup.
England’s team is full of members of the Great Britain squad that claimed a memorable penalty shootout victory over the Netherlands in the Olympic final in Brazil two summers ago.
It was so special to go to my first World Cup but it was difficult because all of us had full-time jobs or were students, and we all had to wear the same shirts we’d worn through the previous year.Alex Danson
Maddie Hinch, the goalkeeper, was one of those who shot to fame after their exploits in Rio, which prompted an increase in the take-up of hockey and she herself has discovered a new influx of junior goalkeepers.
“I still think back to my school days when it wasn’t a particularly popular position,” said Hinch, who was named world goalkeeper of the year in 2017 and 2018.
“Now I get messages constantly about how schools are struggling to get enough kit because so many kids want to be goalkeepers. That is what makes me smile every single day off the back of Rio because it has transformed the concept of what a goalkeeper is and that actually you can be a little bit of a hero at times.”
For Alex Danson, whose team open up against India at Lea Valley today, success is measured in the strides her sport has taken since she played in her first World Cup with England in Perth, Australia in 2002.
Then, England’s resolutely amateur line-up were eliminated in the group stage after winning three of their seven pool games, but subsequent success has left the squad in an entirely different place going into their first event as hosts.
“It was so special to go to my first World Cup but it was difficult because all of us had full-time jobs or were students, and we all had to wear the same shirts we’d worn through the previous year,” said Danson. “There was no funding or infrastructure so there really are stark differences now. We are able to be a lot more professional and we have had a lot more time together so hopefully that is going to pay off.”
England suffered a disappointing semi-final defeat to New Zealand on penalties at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but rebounded to beat Saturday’s opponents India 6-0 in the bronze medal match.
They are aiming to become the first England women’s team to reach a World Cup final.
Sixteen teams split into four groups will compete in a total of 36 matches over two weeks at the Olympic Park and more than 100,000 tickets have been sold for the event. England, with a squad featuring eight Rio Olympic gold medallists, also face Ireland and USA in the group stages. New Zealand, Argentina and the Netherlands are among the favourites.