Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tokyo Olympics hockey: 10 goalkeepers to watch

This Olympic Games has been blessed with an abundance of incredible goalkeepers. In the modern day game, the importance of goalkeepers is stronger than ever. IMOGEN AINSWORTH runs the rule over 10 to watch as teams aim to make history in Tokyo.  

Ayeisha McFerran, Ireland

McFerran will be looking to build upon her personal and team success from the 2018 World Cup on the Olympic stage. Despite unfortunate results at recent international events, the Green Army will be aiming shine the green light in Tokyo. Playing her club hockey for Kampong since 2019, McFerran has gained valuable experience playing in the Hoofdklasse. Stand out performances in Ireland’s goal in the 2018 World Cup led to her being crowned goalkeeper of the tournament, and helped her team win a first silver medal. She’s a shoot-out expert, as seen in the World Cup and also in Ireland’s Olympic Qualifiers against Canada. She also attended the University of Louisville, USA, where she played for the Louisville Cardinals from 2015-2017. Ireland will be an exciting team to watch in Tokyo as they look to make history once more with an Olympic medal.  

Rachael Lynch, Australia 

After a turbulent year for the Hockeyroos, Lynch’s determination and courage has been a force to be reckoned with on and off the field. These qualities will be sure to be present in her performances. Going into her second Olympic Games with 227 international caps to her name, Lynch has plenty of experience on the international stage. She made history during the 2019 FIH Pro League, where she surpassed Rachel Imison’s previous record of 207 caps. Following a successful year in 2019, she was awarded FIH Goalkeeper of the Year. 

Rachael Lynch was awarded FIH goakeeper of the year in 2019

Working as a neuro-rehabilitation nurse, and an ambassador for mental health charity ‘RUOK?’, she’s an inspiration to many, both on and off the hockey pitch. She also runs her own coaching company, “Stomp Goalkeeping”, which shows her commitment to developing younger goalkeepers to be the best they can be. Strong performances in the 2018 World Cup saw Australia finish fourth, and they then went on to finish third at the inaugural FIH Pro League. Australia will be starting their tournament against Spain, a rematch of the bronze medal match from the 2018 World Cup where they finished outside the medals. They’ll be looking to put this right in Tokyo. 

Marìa Ruiz, Spain

A promising Spanish team have been building momentum in the years leading up to this Olympics, securing significant World Cup and European bronzes in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Ruiz continues to be a strong figure in defence, notably being awarded goalkeeper of the tournament and denying England a bronze medal in the 3rd/4th place shootout at the 2019 EuroHockey Championships. She’s an incredibly hard-working athlete, who’s dedication has often been praised by Spain’s head coach, Adrain Lock. She’s notably adapted to lockdowns by creating a form of reaction training using lights to improve her peripheral vision.

She plays her domestic hockey for Club de Campo Villa Madrid, a popular club within the Spanish team. An Olympic medal in Tokyo for the Spanish Women would be the product of years of hard work, with their first and only Olympic medal being gold in 1992. Given their recent successes at the 2018 World Cup and 2019 EuroHockey Championships, they have shown that they can battle with the best and will certainly be strong contenders in Tokyo.  

Belén Succi, Argentina  

The first choice goalkeeper of Las Leonas brings a wealth of experience with her on the plane to Tokyo. Heading to her third Olympic Games, Succi will be targeting a second Olympic medal following a bronze in Beijing. With 240 international caps, she goes into the tournament as the most capped female goalkeeper. She’s been part of the senior team since 2006, and has achieved an impressive 20 medals, 12 of which are gold, in those 15 years. 

With a busy life outside of hockey as a mother and a teacher, her years of dedication to the sport have not gone unnoticed. She often stands out in her brilliantly decorated OBO helmets. Keep an eye out for her stunning blue and white helmet, featuring the symbol of Las Leonas, a lioness. They are currently ranked second in the world, but Argentina women have never won an Olympic gold. They’re another team hoping to make history in this tournament and she’ll be a driving force in their Olympic campaign. 

Josine Koning, Netherlands 

Out of the 96 matches the Netherlands have played since Rio 2016, they have only lost three. This comes as no surprise given the quality of the entire team, with their goalkeepers being no exception. Having two world-class goalkeepers in their team, Alyson Annan was spoilt for choice when choosing for the Olympics. Koning’s solid international and club performances have led to her being chosen as the first choice goalkeeper going to Tokyo. She plays for the highly successful Den Bosch, and trains under the watchful eye of renowned goalkeeper coach Martijn Drijver.

On the club scene, she’s helped Den Bosch top the women’s Hoofdklasse multiple times, most recently in the 2020-21 season. Her performances in Orange have seen her and her team win an abundance of gold medals including: Champions Trophy gold in 2018, World Cup gold in 2018, FIH ProLeague golds 2019 and the 2020/2021 season, and EuroHockey golds in 2019 and 2021. Off the hockey pitch, she has also studied for a masters in Law, which is a fine achievement while also playing top level hockey. The Dutch team will be going to Tokyo hoping to right the wrongs from Rio and come away with a gold to add to their collection. 

Ollie Payne, Great Britain 

Payne has rapidly made his way through the GB Hockey ranks. The 22-year-old  joined the GB senior men’s set up in July 2020 after a successful junior career. As part of the GB EDP squad, who notably won gold at both the 2018 and 2019 Sultan of Johor Cup, he was awarded goalkeeper of the tournament in 2019. He also won silver with England at the 2019 Junior EuroHockey championship in Valencia. Originally from Devon, Payne was a key player in Durham University’s Men’s 1st team during his time there. He memorably helped them to victory in a thrilling BUCS final in 2018 which ended on penalty strokes. After graduating with a degree in Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity, he plays for Holcombe. Head coach Danny Kerry has put faith in the youngster, selecting him for the Olympic Games after making his senior debut during the EuroHockey Championships earlier in the summer where England finished 4th. With Kerry at the helm, Team GB will be hoping to be on the podium and follow the women’s success in Rio to another historic gold for Team GB.  

Pirmin Blaak, Netherlands

Max Caldas’ experienced Dutch side have been on the rise once more in the lead up to Tokyo. Pirmin Blaak has been a prominent figure in the squad since his international debut in 2011. He not only was awarded goalkeeper of the tournament in the most recent EuroHockey Championships, but he was also hugely important in helping his team win gold in front of a home crowd. 

He is the co-founder of the coaching company, GoalieWorks, which he runs with Jan Lelieveldt. He currently plays for Oranje-Rood, which he has done since 2016. The Dutch men haven’t won an Olympic gold since 2000, with their last medal being a silver in 2012. They’ll be hoping to improve on the final standings from Rio which saw them finish 4th, and gain themselves a place on the podium in Tokyo. 

Alex Stadler, Germany 

Mannheim Hockey Club’s young goalkeeper has made an incredible start to his senior international career. Coming off the back of a gold medal and being awarded goalkeeper of the tournament at the Junior EuroHockey Championships in 2019, he made his senior debut for Germany in September 2020. At the age of 21 he’s been capped 10 times for the German men’s team.

Alexander Stadler has made swift rise as Germany’s No1

His most recent success includes a silver medal in the 2021 EuroHockey Championship narrowly missing out on a gold in a dramatic shoot-out. He spent some of his younger years in England at Oakham School, in Rutland. He was part of the 1st XI which played in the National Cup Quarter finals and National Indoor finals, and won the Independent Schools Midlands Hockey League. He’ll be the youngest ‘keeper out in Tokyo, but no doubt one of the brightest talents as Germany go in search of another Olympic medal following their most recent bronze in Rio. 

Quico Cortes, Spain

Quico Cortes is an extremely experienced goalkeeper, playing at three Olympic Games (Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016) and 17 years with the national side. At the age of 38, he has a phenomenal 315 international caps and is the most capped men’s goalkeeper at the tournament. A loyal club servant, his career has seen him turn out for Club Egara every year but one, when he played for Den Bosh for the 2012-2013 season. After securing an Olympic silver in Beijing in 2008, he’ll be hoping to add an Olympic gold to his stunning career.

Recent success includes a silver medal in the 2019 EuroHockey Championship, however Spain finished 5th at the most recent EuroHockey Championships earlier this summer in Amsterdam. He also earned a well deserved nomination for FIH Goalkeeper of the Year after stand out performances in 2019. His years of experience will serve him well in this tournament, and he’ll be a calming figure Olympic debutants in the team. 

P.R Sreejesh, India 

A long-standing figure in the Indian team, Sreejesh is one of the most capped players in the squad. He’s been capped 236 times during his 15 years on the team. This will be his third Olympic Games, having played in both London and Rio. He’s a former captain of the team, during which he led the team to Olympic quarter finals, and Champions Trophy silver. He’s highly respected in the hockey community, and as a result he was made a member of the FIH Athlete’s Committee this year. Alongside this, he also works for the Kerala government as Chief Sports Organiser. India will be going into this Olympics hoping to secure a long awaited Olympic medal, something which hasn’t happened in four decades.  

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