Richardson-Walsh: Experience the key in GB hockey's Olympic qualifier

Former Great Britain hockey captain Kate Richardson-Walsh was speaking at a National Lottery event in Stratford

Rio gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh is bullish about Great Britain's Olympic hockey qualification chances ahead of this weekend’s qualifier against Chile.

The 39-year-old was part of the historic gold-medal winning side in Rio, a team from which only five remain for the two-legged Olympic qualifier in Stratford this weekend - the final opportunity they have to secure a spot at Tokyo 2020.

And for Richardson-Walsh, it is the experience of the likes of Maddie Hinch, Giselle Ansley, Laura Unsworth, Susannah Townsend and captain Hollie Pearne-Webb that is likely to bring them success at crunch time, but equally, she knows her former side can take nothing for granted.

“Having people who have been there have experience of what it’s like to have to qualify, being part of the Olympic family, and not just going to the Olympics but going on to win medals is what makes the real difference,” said the former Great Britain captain.

“They were youngsters in the team when we were playing and now, they are the leaders and are doing an amazing job.

“Olympic qualification is tough. They should be fine in a two-game play-off against Chile as their world ranking is better and have performed at the higher level for a long time.

“However, it is two games and it’s a sport where anything can happen. Being able to stay on task and doing your job for the team is often easier said than done.”

Speaking of the importance of experience, there are few better former players to ask for advice than Richardson-Walsh, who captained Great Britain to gold in 2016.

And the former captain, who knows all the ups and downs of the Olympic process, made sure she was present to lend a helping hand.

“We were brought in by the staff recently to talk about our qualification experience,” she added.

It was Helen, Jo Ellis, Karen Brown and myself who were asked to come back and speak to the players about this weekend.

“We all still keep in touch with the players we played with, we are still on the WhatsApp group from Rio so we still chat on there now and again I wish them all the best and support them all the way.”

Richardson-Walsh was speaking at the Olympic Park in Stratford, where she joined 25 past and present British athletes to mark the 25-year anniversary of National Lottery funding.

Before funding began for elite sport, Great Britain ranked 36th in the medal table at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, but at Rio 2016, after almost two decades of funding, Team GB finished second.

For Richardson-Walsh, National Lottery funding made all the difference in her hockey career. Without it, she wouldn’t have been able to quit working to play full-time and steer her team to winning gold in Rio.

“For the first time, we were able to train as a full-time programme in the lead-up to London 2012 and that really accelerated us to being eighth in the world to moving up to second, third and eventually winning that gold medal in Rio,” she said.

“As an athlete, time is so precious and so vital. It’s that time spent on culture, rest and recovery and nutrition that really helps you from being nowhere to making you an Olympic gold medallist.”

Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has had on your community over the past 25 years by visiting www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the 25th hashtag: #NationalLottery25