Following the conclusion of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, we have a real treat in store for all hockey fans. The tenth episode of HockeyPod – the FIH’s monthly podcast – is a very special one, with three of the biggest names in the sport joining in conversation with hosts Sarah Juggins and Rich Stainthorpe.
Fresh from guiding the Netherlands women to a stunning Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, head coach Alyson Annan – herself a double Olympic gold medallist with Australia’s Hockeyroos – talks at length about her team’s desire to prove themselves as the best in the world, and how her players coped with the pressure of being tournament favourites.
“We wanted to be number one, we wanted to be the best and to continually compete at the absolute top level,” said Annan, who has overseen the Oranje holding the World Cup, European Cup, FIH Hockey Pro League and Olympic titles all at the same time. “I think other teams performed really well and that put extra pressure on us to really up it every time. I think I underestimated the pressure on the girls at the Olympics. We talked about it but not a lot, the pressure of being number one. Particularly back at home, a lot of people just expected us to win … the pressure back at home was more than outside of Holland. The girls winning was such a huge step in overcoming the pressure they had back home, and the pressure they put on themselves. I’m a proud coach, being in front of such a good team.”
Annan is joined by another Australian in the shape of Mark Hager, who competed as a player at the Seoul 1988 and Atlanta 1996 Games, who discusses coaching Great Britain to a superb bronze medal in Tokyo. It was a case of third time lucky for the former Kookaburras striker, having finally claimed an Olympic medal as a coach after fourth place finishes with New Zealand at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
“Since the last Olympics, the girls would say that they haven’t performed as well as they would have liked over that four-year period, so we are very proud about where we finished”, said Hager, who recently announced his decision to step away from his role as GB and England head coach to return back to New Zealand, having not seen his wife for over 15 months. “If I look at where we were when I first came in in 2019, we didn’t have a very good Pro League [campaign]. In 2020 we started alright, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was going through different phases on what you could do. We didn’t have any club hockey here [in the UK] and I think that hurt us a little bit. [We didn’t] feel so much the pressure of defending champions because we knew we were a new team, and we had to perform to the best of our ability, which we did pretty well at the Olympics. To finish with a bronze medal after where this team has been, particularly after the last two and a half years, we are very proud of what we achieved.”
We are also joined by an undisputed legend of Belgian hockey, as Thomas Briels reflects on a magnificent ending to his international playing career by adding an Olympic gold medal to his World, FIH Hockey Pro League and European titles.
“It was the first time that we openly admitted that we wanted to go for gold”, said Briels, an inspirational figure in the Red Lions’ rise to the very pinnacle of world sport since debuting with the team way back in 2006. “In [Rio] 2016 we really wanted a medal, and when we won the semi-final we were so happy that we didn’t really perform and lost focus for the final, and we really didn’t want that to happen again. But we had the experience of winning the World Cup (2018) and then the European Cup (2019), so it was the first time we said that we really want to play for gold, as we already have the silver. That gave a little bit of extra pressure, but I think we were really confident that we had the team to do it, and [motivated] everyone to remain focussed until the end.”
It is a cracking conversation that also includes some surprising revelations, not least the Netherlands players convincing Alyson Annan to indulge in some reality TV during the Games.
Episode 10 of the HockeyPod is available for your listening pleasure right now on the watch.hockey app. We hope you enjoy the show!