Olympic Games / Hockey - Prospects for Gold: Sixsmith to shape quest for Olympic gold: Bill Colwill looks at the prospects of the British women's hockey team eager to improve on their fourth place in Seoul

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE arrived in Rome last week for pre-season training with Lazio together with the Great Britain women's Olympic hockey squad en route to Barcelona. The absence of Gascoigne from England's European Cup squad may well have cost his country a medal. The team lacked flair, an important ingredient in any successful side.

Jane Sixsmith, a confident 24- year-old from Sutton Coldfield, is expected to provide a large chunk of the flair and probably a fair proportion of the goals as Britain's women strive for gold in Spain. Just under four years ago she climbed aboard the British Olympic Committee's charter jet for the Far East to celebrate her 21st birthday as she made for Seoul. 'Seoul was a bonus to me. I knew I was not in the starting line-up. This time I expect to play a prominent role,' the loquacious, bubbling 'Jasper' Sixsmith, with the carrot-coloured hair, said.

Great Britain, seeded eight in Seoul, finished in fourth place, losing out for the bronze medal to the Netherlands. At these Games, the hockey will be played in Terrassa, the home of Spanish and Catalan hockey and a textile city some 40 kilometres from Barcelona. Although seeded seventh, Britain's chances of improving on the Seoul result are good.

Without doubt they are the best prepared and fittest squad to leave these shores, a blend of experience and youth, with seven players having continued since Seoul. Indeed, the incentive and motivation which drove the men forward to the gold in Seoul, the experience and disappointment of just missing out in the previous Olympics and the fact that for many it would be the last opportunity, are strong in the women's camp.

Britain, who play Italy twice in Rome before moving on to the Olympic Village and training games against New Zealand and Spain, will clearly be focusing their attention on their opening match, against the world champions, the Netherlands.

The Dutch suffered a bitter blow when their sweeper and penalty corner expert, Lisanne Lejeune, suffered a broken collar- bone two weeks ago in a game against Germany and had to be replaced by the 20-year-old Carole Thate. Since the defeat in Seoul, Britain have won two of their three games against the Dutch with each match being decided by one goal.

In the women's tournament, with four teams in each pool, one mistake can be calamitous, so it is important that Britain take at least a point from their opening game. The Dutch, by tradition, are slow starters in tournaments and, with the added loss of Lejeune, a British win should be possible.

South Korea, their second opponents, won an exciting game 5-4 against Britain in Amsterdam last month, although Britain gave them a three-goal lead with loose marking in defence. The Koreans, a fast, attacking side, are clearly vulnerable in defence and, if Britain take the game to them, as they did in the second half in Amsterdam, they should collect both points.

The final pool game is against New Zealand, who were beaten by Germany on penalty strokes in the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Auckland last October. Britain finished in fourth place. Even so, the Kiwis have not been able to benefit from the same preparation as Britain and may be short of match practice.

Depending on sensible team selections and with a positive approach, Britain should reach the semi-finals with their likely opponents Australia, the Olympic champions, or the young German side.

Britain's defence is sound and the midfield highly experienced. The England captain, Sandy Lister, is improving in the centre with every outing. So if Sixsmith and the other strikers can make inroads into opposing defences, and given the element of luck so necessary, a medal is certainly within their grasp.

GREAT BRITAIN SQUAD (for Barcelona): J Atkins (Bradford), L Bayliss, J Sixsmith (both Sutton Coldfield), K Brown, J Thompson (both Slough), V Dixon, S Lister (Ipswich), K Johnson, M Nevill (capt, both Leicester), T Miller (Clifton), M Nicholls (Ealing) (all England), H Morgan (Swansea and Wales), J McWilliams (Randalstown and Northern Ireland), W Fraser, S Fraser, A Ramsay (all Glasgow Western and Scotland).

Manager: D Batterham. Coach: D Hay.

(Photograph omitted)

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