Saturday, July 20, 2024

Road to Paris Olympics dream: ‘My first coach told me importance of doing everything on the move’

Katie Robertson believes she can deliver the X factor needed to keep GB Hockey’s golden generation going at the Olympic Games, writes Tom Harle.

Robertson, born in the Fife countryside, looks at the sport a little differently to most of her team-mates at Bisham Abbey. The 27-year-old turned the right heads with her performances at the 2022 Commonwealth Games – plucked out of the Scotland set-up and pitched into Team GB’s Olympic campaign for the last push to Paris 2024.

She moved down to Berkshire without baggage and a relentless attacking mentality that could make her GB’s secret weapon as they aim to win a medal at an unprecedented fourth successive Games.

“I think it’s been quite nice for them to have something a little bit different,” said Robertson. “The girls have been together for three years, so I am a fresh voice. The way I like to play the game is the direction GB are trying to push things – fast, attacking hockey.”

Defence has been the bedrock of the GB women’s dynasty that delivered bronze at London 2012, gold at Rio 2016 and bronze again at Tokyo 2020.

Now at the helm is Glaswegian David Ralph, who played more than 100 international games for Scotland and has got the top job having been part of the GB coaching set-up since 2013.

In a similar vein to men’s head coach Paul Revington, Ralph has sought to loosen the shackles and let talents like Robertson express themselves on the field of play.

“The game as a whole has really evolved over the last five or 10 years,” said Robertson. “It’s become more dynamic, players have become fitter, the whole game is more exciting.

“My first coach, David Stott, always instilled in me the importance of doing everything on the move, three-dimensional skills, doing that little bit extra. I’ll always be grateful to him for that because obviously he could read the way the game was going and that’s how it has turned out.

“We definitely want to play an exciting brand of hockey and for me, that is about scoring goals. We’ve done a lot of work on being really clinical in the circle and putting our chances away.”

“It is safe to assume Robertson’s philosophy has been shaped by her unconventional route to the summit of the sport. She grew up in a showjumping family and was encouraged onto horseback as soon as she could walk by parents Lynnmedals and James.

Robertson looked set for a competitive career as a showjumper after forming part of the victorious Great Britain ‘children on horses’ team at the European Championships in Paris in 2010.

“We never knew anything different,” said Robertson, whose brother James also followed in their parents’ footsteps and rode. “We were never forced to do it – it was the way we grew up, our lifestyle and one we absolutely loved. It was a childhood of dreams.”

Robertson’s world was rocked when, two weeks after the Europeans, her horse fell on top of her and she was crushed between the horse and the ground. She suffered a bad concussion, a broken collarbone and shoulder and was very fortunate to emerge without more serious injuries.

“I could easily have been paralysed, broken my back or my neck,” she said. “It was a long road to recovery. It was a massive change in my confidence. I just didn’t have enough confidence to get back on a horse again.

“My parents were obviously disappointed. We don’t have any horses around anymore. But at the same time, they were very supportive and keen for me to try something different.”

There was little doubt that hockey would fill that void once she began working with two-time hockey Olympian Pauline Stott, David’s wife, who was teaching PE at Kilgraston School.

Robertson is now one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing her to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support.

Team Scotland and the Commonwealth Games have been fundamental to her journey to this point, with Ralph offering her a place on his GB programme straight on the back of Birmingham 2022.

“For most athletes in Scotland, the goal is to compete at the Commonwealth Games,” she said. “Gold Coast 2018 definitely opened my eyes to what real senior international hockey was like.

“After 2018, I took some time out, so there was a bit of a gap in my career but I felt fresh, ready to go again and Birmingham was a bit of a turning point.

“I was a bit of a rabbit in the headlights initially but by then, I was ready and settled.”

Robertson is in the final stages of making her case for selection for Paris 2024, with the ongoing swing of the FIH Pro League in London her last opportunity to bid for one of the 16 spots in the Team GB squad.

“Pauline was my idol so when I met her, that was the first time I dreamt about going to the Olympics,” she said. “It’s the pinnacle and what everyone wants to do, but I never thought I would be in a position to be involved. The last few years have been a whirlwind but it’s all very exciting.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. To find out more visit: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk

Total Hockey

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