ONE YEAR TO GO...

Top nations take note as Team GB's women's hockey side run into form at the right time

Team GB, led by England captain Kate Walsh, are up to fourth in the world and tipped to capture medals

Kate Walsh has worn an England shirt 173 times and the Great Britain jersey a further 85 times. "It's the best of both worlds," she says, a suggestion that may not sit comfortably with various football authorities as they struggle to keep their players from participating in the London Games.

"Football is massive and the players are massive – almost as big as the associations, which is completely opposite to hockey," says Walsh, who captains England and Great Britain. "Sometimes you do think: 'Just get on with it and play for the good of the game.'"

The comparison between the unwillingness of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations to have any involvement in the Games and the enthusiasm of the British hockey side to come together, while still enjoying their national independence, is not strictly fair – the Olympics is the pinnacle for hockey – but the contrast in attitude is striking.

"Last year we went to the World Cup as England and won a bronze medal – and we know that we have these Scottish and Welsh players to come in who will strengthen the side," says Walsh. "It's a positive vibe – if we can do that with this squad, what can we do when these girls come in? It's exciting.

"I can see it from all sides. The Scots and the Welsh want to compete in, say, the European Championship as their own nations. Quite rightly, and they should be allowed to do that. Everybody has very strong patriotism for their country. We can still do that and then come together as Great Britain."

The England side that reached the last four of the World Cup will be strengthened by a probable quartet of Scots and one from Wales and enter the Games as medal contenders. England are ranked fourth in the world and with reinforcements, Team GB are increasingly being regarded by the top nations as worth keeping a wary eye on.

"The Dutch are coming over to play and in all my time in the game the Dutch have never been over here. Not once," says Walsh, 31. "They have always been ranked one or two in the world. They now want to see what we're doing: why has the Great Britain team risen up the rankings? What are they doing?"

The Chinese team, who won silver in Beijing, have also been over to Bisham Abbey to train; part acclimatisation, part intrigue, it would seem. "The gym where we train has part-glass walls and all we could see were these Chinese heads popping up trying to see what we were up to," says Walsh. "It's an interest in what physical training we are doing from the bigger nations. We are the fittest team in world hockey."

England's climb up the rankings – Britain take on that of their best- placed side – began in the wake of failing to qualify for the Athens Games in 2004 and peaked at the start of this month when a fifth place in the Champions Trophy lifted them above China to fourth in the world, behind Germany, Netherlands and Argentina, the top-ranked side.

Increased funding has played a key role – £14m has been handed over to the men's and women's game in return for the expectation of two medals next year. Both squads now train full-time. "In the past we would come together at weekends here, there and everywhere, because people had to work," says Walsh. "It was really haphazard. You might take a couple of steps forward at one training camp but then have to start again a week later. Now we train five times a week and live together. We know each other inside out."

It was last year's World Cup that established the women as the coming force in the game. Walsh's side finished second in their group behind hosts Argentina to earn a semi-final against the Dutch. The game ended 1-1 and the penalty shoot-out took a predictably English turn; Walsh was one of two to miss their strokes.

There was the consolation of bronze medals after Germany were beaten in the play-off. The aim for London in one year's time is to improve on that. "For us it is business as usual," says Walsh of the intensifying countdown. "We keep on training, our days are packed. There's no real time for anything else – that's the countdown for us.

"Our vision that we set in 2009 was gold and we were not just saying [that] because it was London. We broke it down into what that means day to day. What we eat, sleep, breathe is part of that gold standard. Last year was fantastic, a real breakthrough for us to get into the semi-finals of the World Cup. We're there, knocking on the door and pushing for the podium."

Seoul brothers

"Where, oh where, were the Germans? And frankly, who cares?" crowed the usually magnanimous Barry Davies, after Britain's third goal in the 1988 men's final. With that, for perhaps the first and only time, hockey muscled itself to the front of the nation's sporting consciousness. Britain, who had overcome Australia in the semi-finals thanks to a last-minute Sean Kerly winner, had lost to the Germans in the group stages and had not beaten them for 30 years. But the team made history that autumn night in Seoul, as the magical Imran Sherwani scored two goals and Kerly the clincher in a 3-1 triumph that gave Britain their only post-war men's hockey gold.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?