West Chiltington’s Maddie Hinch on winning gold at Rio 2016

PUBLISHED: 10:59 28 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:59 28 February 2017

Maddie Hinch © Sportsbeat / Alamy Stock Photo

Maddie Hinch © Sportsbeat / Alamy Stock Photo

© Sportsbeat / Alamy Stock Photo

Nine million UK viewers watched the GB women’s hockey team triumph in the Rio Olympics last year. Clive Agran catches up with the West Chiltington woman who became Britain’s hockey hero

Maddie Hinch, Great Britain’s hockey hero in Rio, ushers me into an elegant living-room in her parents’ beautiful home on the edge of West Chiltington. In the hectic post-Olympic weeks and months, she gave countless interviews but is nevertheless perfectly willing to go through the whole remarkable business yet again.

Surprisingly, it was only the night before that she at last watched a recording of the famous final for the very first time. “I didn’t want to view it on my own and so watched it with my parents. I think Dad has seen it about seven times already. I thought blimey, I look very relaxed. I don’t remember feeling that relaxed at the time.”

In the unlikely event there is anyone out there who was not among the nine million UK viewers spellbound by the thrilling climax to the tournament shown live on TV and missed the subsequent massive media coverage, our golden girls held hot favourites Holland in a frantic final that finished 3-3. And so it went to a penalty shootout. As two countries held their collective breath so goalkeeper Maddie Hinch held her nerve, saved all four of the one-on-one penalties, was mobbed by her delirious team-mates and immediately became the nation’s darling.

#hinch was even trending at number one on Twitter. She learnt this via a text from her brother, who had been in Rio but unfortunately had to return to work and consequently missed the final. Ten minutes later he sent another, “Oh yes, well done on the gold medal.” Maddie smiles as she recalls the episode. Her parents nervously watched the enthralling final from the grandstand and joined the celebrations afterwards.

No sooner had the Champagne been drunk than an invitation arrived requesting Maddie appear on I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! “Perhaps when I’m finished playing I might do something like that but at the moment I’m more interested in improving my hockey.” Does she now think of herself as a celebrity? “No, definitely not! I still find it weird signing things.”

The flight home was fun. “We won our gold two days before and were therefore still in party mode and still celebrating, whereas a lot of the athletes had been partying for a week and a half, were just very tired and wanted to get home, so hockey probably annoyed quite a few people as we sort of took over the plane. It was so much fun and then everyone just fell asleep.”

Because she plays in a goalkeeper’s mask, Maddie thought she wouldn’t be readily recognised but a ride on the London Tube the day after she returned home disabused her. “The guy sitting next to me was reading a paper and my face was like the biggest thing. He looked at me and said ‘Maddie’ and then the whole carriage got involved.”

After a soggy victory parade in an open-top bus in Manchester and a drier celebration in Trafalgar Square the following day, Maddie attended a reception at Buckingham Palace. “We met the Queen and the whole Royal family, which was surreal but cool because they all watched it [the final]. Kate is hockey mad and saw the girls win bronze at London 2012. Prince Harry was the funniest because he tried to demonstrate my goalkeeping technique and more closely resembled a crab than me. He’s got a lot to work on there. And Her Majesty said how fantastic it was and how proud she was, which was really strange.”

Ironically Maddie had already signed to play this season for a Dutch team, Stichtse, and so was soon packing her kit and flying to Holland. What sort of a welcome did she receive? “They were great, actually. My team has four of the girls who played in the Dutch team in Rio, which made it a little bit more difficult for me but I thought it was going to be harder. The girls were brilliant and very welcoming. I think they were just excited to have me on board and see me as someone who can help them win the title for the first time. We don’t talk about the Olympics much. They don’t want to hear it. It’s still quite raw for them. They’re not used to being beaten. They were going for a formidable feat of three in a row and we took that away from them. I appreciate as an athlete that’s quite difficult for them.”

Maddie loves Holland. “The culture around hockey in particular is fantastic and is what I would love us to have in this country. They’ve been doing it for so much longer and their structure is so much stronger. The kids come out of school and all go into the club system for sport. They don’t have inter-school sport. Consequently the club system is really strong. My club, which is just north of Utrecht, has thousands of kids, five pitches and a long waiting list. And we’re one of the smaller clubs! There’s one down the road which has nine pitches and I think 24 women’s teams. It’s just crazy and you wonder how we’re ever able to compete. You can see why they’re the best and so technically strong.”

Maddie’s team-mates naturally speak Dutch to each other but English to her. Initially it caused a few problems but now she has developed a much better understanding with them and, for example, they know when she’s coming out and when she’s staying back. The team are doing very well and were second in the table going into the winter break. However, the crunch will come in the spring play-offs. “My club has been in the play-offs eight years in a row but has yet to win the title.”

Is Maddie a celebrity over there? “Certainly less so than over here. They all know who I am but I don’t think they want to talk too much about it. It’s very different. Whereas here I enjoy a sort of hero status over there I’m very much the villain… the one that ruined the party!”

One perhaps surprising consequence of her playing in Holland has been an enormous surge in interest in goalkeeping. Hockey clubs have tweeted her that, whereas previously they had great difficulty recruiting goalkeepers, now they don’t have enough goalkeeping equipment to go round. “Apparently they’re calling it ‘The Maddie Hinch Effect’. Goalkeeping kit is not the most flattering. Now it seems goalie is quite a cool position.”

She believes playing in the high-powered Dutch league will improve her game and help ensure she keeps goal for England in the European Championships in Holland in August and again in the World Cup next year in India. Then she would dearly love to be there for Great Britain again at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. And if it came to another penalty shoot-out in the final, who would bet against her? 


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