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The world’s number 1

• Posted in Hockey • By JoeBaker

One of the most memorable moments for Team GB from their astonishingly successful 2016 Rio Olympic Games was when the women’s hockey side made history by winning their first ever Gold medal. It was secured in probably the most dramatic way possible too, on penalties against the tournament favourites, the Netherlands.

One of the main heroes was a woman who made an incredible four saves out of four in that shoot-out to secure the gold medal, Maddie Hinch, in a performance widely credited in the media as being the deciding factor in the game's outcome. She had never before kept a clean sheet in a shootout – what a time to do it. In addition to being an immovable object when under immense pressure during that tense finale, she also kept out a penalty stroke in normal time and made several vital saves. Her impact upon such a monumental moment for women’s hockey, witnessed by some nine million television viewers, was remarkable.

Therefore, it is not a surprise that Hinch has now been named as the Female Goalkeeper of the Year at the annual International Hockey Federation Hockey Stars awards in India. For someone who faced several rejections in her early years, and who only started playing hockey due to advice from her PE teacher because of the way she threw herself around playing rounders at school, it is some climb. Voted for by fellow players, coaches and fans, it is one of the finest accolades a hockey player can receive. The Team GB women’s coach Danny Kerry and assistant coach Karen Brown also won the world's best male and female coaches in an excellent evening for British hockey.

Her rise to prominence is worth every appraisal that goes its way. The pinnacle was obviously in Rio where she was brilliant throughout the tournament, inspired in the final, passed 100 international appearances in what was her first Olympic Games and ended the summer with an MBE. Yet Hinch was making her mark way before then. She played a key role in England's gold medal triumph at the EuroHockey Championships in 2015 when she was the hero of the shootout against, who else, but the Netherlands, a breakthrough year when she was actually nominated for the award she has now won.

Hinch narrowly missed out on selection for the London 2012 Olympics but turned that disappointment into the platform to cement herself as her countries best goalkeeper, first tasting international tournament success by winning a silver medal for England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Her England debut had come a full six years before, against Germany. It is fair to say that it took her a while to work her way up to England and Great Britain’s number one. It is certainly not in doubt now.

The honour received by Hinch is not just symbolic of the amazing progress Team GB has made but reflective of what is an extremely exciting time for the women’s game. The spotlight that was shone upon Team GB during the Olympics highlighted the development the team has made and will have inspired many to follow them and even more to pick up a stick themselves. The profile that had unfairly been lacking has finally arrived – the gold medal was arguably a bonus. Hinch will be a crucial part of the team’s challenge to now kick on, win further tournaments and develop this legacy. On top of the awards coming their way the domestic game is continuing to grow, with increasing crowds and a home World Cup arriving next year. The importance of players such as Hinch performing so brilliantly on the international stage cannot be underestimated.

In a career that has taken in Exmouth, Leicester and Holcombe, being rightly named the world’s best in her position has to be the personal highlight so far for Hinch. Her star may have taken slightly longer to rise but no one can question her emented position as one of the finest players in world hockey. And at just 28 years of age, that star is surely set to stay burning brightly for quite a while longer yet. 

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