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Mar 5, 2018

Team GB and England hockey star Lily Owsleys World Cup hopes

Editor Mark Hayhurst talks to Great Britain and England hockey star Lily Owsley about Olympic Gold and World Cup ambition

For someone who didn’t want to play hockey, Great Britain and England star Lily Owsley has achieved great things in the sport.

From picking up a gold medal at the European championships in 2015, representing England, and then on to Olympic gold with Great Britain in Rio 2016, Lily has accomplished great things, even being named International Hockey Federation Rising Star (International Young Player of the Year) 2015.

But this year the 23-year-old has her sights set on the World Cup in London during the summer, with the little matter of April’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, in Australia, beforehand.

But looking back at Rio and and Team GB’s success during the 2016 Summer Olympics, Lily has some great memories.

She said: “It was an unbelievable time, the best experience of a tournament ever – the whole event regardless of the result was great and then to go and win it was what we’ve always wanted. So it was an unbelievable experience and will probably go down as one of the best memories of my career.”

There had been concerns before the Games that venues in Brazil would not be ready or not fit for purpose. However, Lily had nothing but praise for the organisation of the event.

She added: “There was a lot of hype leading up to the event that it wasn’t ready and that the village itself wasn’t done to proper standards. But, once we got there, we had absolutely no problem whatsoever. And, to be honest, I think it was just people looking for something to talk about and I had no problems with any of the venues whatsoever. I thought the whole event was brilliant I think they put on an unbelievable games.

“It was a special time, especially with all our families out there, and what better things to do on a rest day than go to Copacabana Beach. It was a brilliant place and it is somewhere I always said I want to go back to and travel. I felt like I barely scratched the surface as it was all performance driven So we never got a chance to see Rio itself, but I really hope one day I can go back and relive some of the memories there.”

And what memories they were, winning Gold in a penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands.

Great Britain had gone on a seven match winning run to reach the final, Lily scored the opening goal before the match was drawn 3-3 and sent to a shoot-out. A superb performance from keeper Maddie Hinch and a winning strike from Hollie Webb secured the title.

However, there may have been a sense of deja vu, as in 2016, England won the European Hockey Championships in London, against The Netherlands, again on a penalty shoot-out. And in that game it was Lily who scored the goal to make it 2-2 and take it to the shoot-out to make history.

Lily said: “I’d have to say to win the Euro Hockey gold was the best win of my career, the happiest win of my career. I don’t think anything will take away from that game, I’m not sure why but largely because it was the first gold medal we had ever won. I think you never forget your first win and for me that was a long time coming and it was the third year of my career and we’d not won, we had quite a lot of silver so to break that barrier and win a final was unbelievable and then to do it in a home game, to do it in London, made the experience even more fantastic with family there, friends there. It was as unbelievable experience.

“In games like that, when you score the last goal and take it to penalties, the momentum is going your way. So for us, especially in the Euro Cup final, to come back from 2-0 down to bring it to 2-2 the momentum was completely going our way, and it was against Holland both times, they were almost quite defeated going into that shoot-out. And we are incredibly lucky to have Maddie Hinch – probably the best goalie in the world - and that gives us a lot of confidence. For me, I was very nervous but had a cool sense of calmness I always thought we were going to win the shoot-out, especially in Rio. I knew when Hollie Webb went up to take it, I knew how calm she is, there wasn’t anyone one else I would have wanted to take that final penalty. I couldn’t watch it myself, I was to cowardly, I felt everybody erupt and assumed we must have won.”

Lily is now focusing on more medal glory with the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.

She added: “Chronologically our focus is on the Commonwealth. It will be a big builder going into the World Cup – that’s the biggest thing we have got this cycle coming up and it’s in London so that makes it even more special. I think it’s the medal that quite a lot of people lack so I think that gives an extra spur on to win a medal there. And the Commonwealth Games will be an unbelievable event. I am sure Australia, as sporting as they are, will make sure the whole thing is fantastic in terms of event ticketing, atmosphere, I think it will be unbelievable and we are very lucky that we have an incredible summer coming up.

“I want to win a world cup – it’s probably the biggest driver in hockey. I also think we did a massive thing in going to create history when we won in Rio. History is never set – there is always more you can do. So it’s a huge challenge and it’s something that only a few countries have done and Holland did it between Beijing and London. We also want to be the first British team to win back to back Games and so I want to win again in Tokyo 2020 and that for me would be the ultimate finisher.”

But hockey wasn’t Lily’s first love or any love at all. She was a keen footballer and athlete, making the England Schools 800 metre final four years running from 2009-2012.

In early 2011, Lily reached the final England Under 16 football and hockey trials on consecutive weekends. She missed the football one due to a hamstring pulled playing hockey after an athletics training session! It was time to focus on one sport. Hockey was the chosen one and she has never looked back.

Lily said: “I played football and did athletics, I was a runner, and when I went to my new school, Clifton College, they told me I had to play hockey – which was the school sport. I actually tried to get out of it because there was no hockey at my first school.

“I wanted to play football on the weekend and every time we trained for hockey I wanted to do athletics. I just didn’t think I had time for anything else and I got made to play it when I was about 13 and I actually just loved it. I thought it was brilliant – I think it is one of the most all encompassing sports there is, you have to have everything, skill, team camaraderie, you have to have physical attributes, you have to have everything whereas some sports you only have to have one of those dimensions and to be honest the biggest kind of driver for that instead of athletics was just the team atmosphere, the team togetherness it is something you don’t get in individual sports – that was what set hockey aside for me – and in the end I loved it.”

Lily’s current club is University of Birmingham in the Investec England Hockey Women’s Premier League. Lily is studying there for a Sports and Exercise Science degree.

Speaking about her career and future Lily said: “I’ll keep playing for Birmingham for a while longer, we are doing well in the league at the moment. I absolutely love playing for club and then the huge focus at the moment is the World Cup this summer. That’s kind of the big thing in my head at the moment. I can’t really see past the World Cup at the moment – I just can’t stop thinking about it. And once that is done and dusted, and fingers crossed it goes well, then we will start setting our sights on qualifying for Tokyo.”

Lily is also an ambassador for Mercian Hockey and is full of praise for the brand.

She said: “I love it, for me it’s more than just playing with a stick – it’s quite a loyalty thing. I got given a stick when I started playing hockey from my coach and it was a Mercian and I’ve pretty much played with it until I got reasonably good enough to get given a stick. So I have been with them my whole life and they have supported me throughout all this and I hope what I am achieving, and what I hope to achieve, gives back to them in the way they have given to me.”

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