Englands GB Olympic hero Maddie Hinch chasing home Commonwealth Games glory – EXCLUSIVE

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After her unbelievable performance clinched the gold medal for Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Maddie Hinch was nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’. It’s an interesting label and serves to how much sportspeople transform once they enter competition given her personality off the pitch is endearing and thoughtful – the antithesis of her nickname. 

Since she made her debut as a bright-eyed teenager in 2008, Hinch has been aboard the roller-coaster of international hockey and experienced each and every high and low along the way. She is looking forwards to the exciting prospect of a home Commonwealth Games – and is looking to stand atop the podium when it’s all said and done, despite the calibre of opposition.

“I never thought I would compete in a home Games in my career, and a Commonwealth Games gold is missing from the collection,” Hinch exclusively told Express Sport. “I’m super excited as I believe home advantage could be the difference for us this time around. Either way, it’s going to be an epic couple of weeks. 

“The hockey world is taking it incredibly seriously given the competition are strong nations with a rich history in the sport – the likes of Australia and New Zealand need to be beaten. We obviously know India will be very strong, and even trying to beat Wales in our group game will be a real tricky one because of the Home Nations clash – they’re always difficult games. We don’t really know what kind of threat Ghana will pose to us. 

“Of course, I want this so much given where I’m at in my career – but the team is in a rebuilding phase. I think we’re just going to take it one game at a time as we can’t get too carried away.”

In fact, a home Commonwealth Games is not something Hinch’s roller-coaster has ever accounted for. Ahead of the Games beginning in Birmingham on Thursday 28 July, the most relevant experience she can recall is England’s clash with Scotland at the Glasgow Games in 2014.

Back then, the goalkeeper had not yet cracked 100 appearances – and the atmosphere and home crowd truly affected her, sticking in her mind eight years later. Hinch said: “I’d never been so nervous. I was young and hadn’t played much, but I remember the bagpipes, the chanting; it was quite an atmosphere.

“I get so much excitement from making a save in front of the home crowd – I kick a ball and they go nuts! I’m looking forward to having that similar feeling in Birmingham and we have to use it to our advantage; I know in the past when we’ve had tournaments at home, we really needed the crowd to get us over over the line and that’s what’s made the difference. We need to embrace the fact that the opposition don’t have that.

“I am so incredibly proud each and every time I go out there and sing the national anthem. It’s surreal – hopefully the crowd is behind us and sing, too.” 

Now a European and Olympic champion, Hinch understands how her role within the team has evolved over the course of her career. The young rising star no longer, she is a veteran, a leader, and one of the players perhaps relied on to carry this team to glory in Birmingham.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to guide the younger players,” Hinch declared. “Earlier in my career, the senior players took the time to share their experiences – what they did right, what they did wrong – and that made a massive difference. I want to be a solid foundation for this group, someone who the team can lean on. It’s tough because in the heat of the moment we all desperately want to win – but I have to remember its part of a bigger journey with this group. 

“My job is to inspire them every day to try and go on and enjoy the career I’ve been so fortunate to have had.”

Hinch has certainly had an incredible career. With over 157 appearances to her name for England and Team GB combined, Hinch bounced back from missing out on a place at the 2012 London Olympics by winning medals at the European Championship, Commonwealth Games and Olympics – including gold at Rio 2016.

In 2016, Hinch – who surpassed 100 international appearances during the Rio Games – won an Olympic gold medal as she saved all four penalties in the final shoot-out against the Netherlands. Her stunning performance ensured she and her teammates soared to fame around the UK, and Hinch admitted the pursuit of glory and the winning feeling is addictive.

“Once you have a taste of the ultimate goal, you become quite greedy. The moment is like nothing else that I can describe,” Hinch said. “Standing atop a podium and achieving that with your team is an infectious feeling, so that alone allows me to get the excitement everyday to to do all the stuff I don’t really want to do but know will be worth it in the long run.

“I also reset my goals along the way I think that’s really important as you become an older athlete. At the end of the day, I’ve stopped a lot of hockey balls – playing is the easy bit, it’s everything around it that can change your mental approach to the game.”

There are not many sportspeople across the country better suited to speak about and act as an advocate for mental health. After a decade of representing her country, Hinch took a step back before re-entering the fold over nine months later.

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For Hinch, the break was necessary. Speaking about her decision, the 33-year-old said: “I needed a mental reset as I had lost why I was playing hockey in the first place. It felt like I was there because it was all I knew. It was difficult as I was giving up my shirt for the first time in a long time, and I didn’t know whether I would ever get it back – but I was lost in my ways and knew I had to do something. 

“I needed time to pause and reflect, and what became clear quite quickly was that I still loved goalkeeping – I had just forgotten how to feel the love for it anymore. I now know how to keep myself in a space where I’m always smiling while playing; when the buzz stops, I know it’s time to call it a day. I’m glad I took a step back and gave myself a break. 

“It’s not just a thing in sport, but also in life. We can all get swamped by our day-to-day lives, but actually taking a step back was the best decision I’ve ever made. Without it, I don’t think I’d be here speaking to you about playing this summer.”

Hinch is the perfect symbol for hockey in the United Kingdom. She points to the success in Rio as a turning point for the sport, inspiring so many men and women across the country to pick up a stick and play. While the sporting landscape on these shores is an incredibly crowded space, Hinch is looking forward to continuing to raise the profile of hockey.

“That’s the great thing about this summer: we get the opportunity to celebrate our sport and put on a show that will hopefully inspire people around the world to want to do what we do,” Hinch added. “As a sport we’re in a good place and I’m grateful to still be a part of of this history that we’re creating all the time.”

While looking ahead to the Commonwealth Games, Hinch refused to be dragged into discussing her future in the sport beyond the event. It is not her first rodeo, and she knows to take it one day, one game and certainly one tournament at a time. There will be no commitment to Paris 2024 just yet. 

“My focus is giving everything I have for this summer and then I’m gonna move back out to Holland to focus my attention back on my club,” Hinch said, with a mischievous smile creeping across her face like she’s just saved a penalty mid-interview. “I don’t want to base my future on on an emotional call. I need to really know that I can commit through to Paris and give everything to the very end. 

“I want to look back and remember that I enjoyed my final years, and so that’s my only focus right now.”

To find out more about Maddie Hinch, head to her Red Bull athlete profile page: https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/athlete/maddie-hinch

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