Team GB's Hockey Success at Rio 2016 Has Helped Redefine British Sport

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Great Britain players react with their gold medals after defeating Netherlands in the Women's Gold Medal Match on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Hockey Centre on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Eight games, eight wins. Team GB's women proved themselves deserved winners of the gold medal in the hockey at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when they defeated the Netherlands on Friday.

They had a few wobbles along the way, but Danny Kerry's side were a dominant force from the first stroke of their sticks in Brazil. They looked well prepared, primed and ready for glory; they looked very un-British.

Perhaps that's a contradiction when we consider just how well British athletes have competed in Rio. On Day 14 of the Games, Team GB's hockey gold was their 24th. Backed up with silver and bronze success across the Games, their medal haul was a combined 60 in Rio to leave them second only to the might of the U.S. in the table.

Indeed, they have surpassed all expectation to put British sport back on the map. It was one thing to be successful at home Games in London four years ago, quite another to travel to Brazil and top that success like they are doing.

The stigmas that surround British sport are being broken down with each passing day at the Olympics. For so long the nearly men and women, their efforts being praised for bravery more than success, it seems the tides are turning.

There is a real substance to what we've seen this past fortnight, and the women's hockey team backed it all up with their historic gold. No British hockey team in the history of the Olympics had ever won a gold medal and now they have. The barrier has been broken.

It wasn't that inaugural hockey success that was being marveled, though, but more the way in which the GB players went about their business. With all the pressure on them, Team GB faced up to it all. They sucked it up, drew a deep breath and got on with the job at hand. It seemed all very pragmatic, despite the dramas that developed on the pitch.

And yes, Britain won their hockey gold by way of a penalty shootout having drawn 3-3 with the Netherlands in normal time. Without leaning on stereotypes too much—or cliches for that matter—it's not often we can say that about a British team. It's normally when penalties are signaled that the dream is ended. Just ask football fans—English, Scottish, Northern Irish or Welsh—and they will all sympathise.

It's not just the national teams that have failed but club teams also. Sure, there are times when teams have bucked the trend, but the true grit to face the adversity of a shootout has been missing in more recent times.

As teams, Brits can compete, although when it comes down to the nitty gritty of a one-on-one sudden death situation, more often than that they crumble. It wasn't so for Team GB's hockey stars; they reveled in the occasion and took it to the Netherlands on Friday to win 2-0 in their shootout and take gold.

It wasn't just in the shootout, either. Twice they had trailed in the game and on each occasion they clawed their way back to parity on the scoreboard. For the second goal, it was almost instantly after going behind.

The players showed a faith in how they had prepared for the Rio Games. When things went wrong, they didn't panic; they stuck to the game plan, remembering what they had worked on and how to overcome it.

That says plenty about the coaches and their preparation. So much about success and failure in elite sport comes in the psychological approach, trusting your convictions and being tuned in. That comes with training and creating an environment where players can focus and remain switched on.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Team Great Britain celebrate after defeating Netherlands in the Women's Gold Medal Match on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Hockey Centre on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mar
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Football Association are currently undergoing another review of why the English football team failed at another international tournament this summer. Rather than look at their own shortcomings, perhaps they should start with Team GB as a whole and ask why it is that British athletes are looking so dominant in Brazil this summer—the very country where their own footballers crashed and burned just two years ago.

Because it's not just hockey. We've seen success in athletics with Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and also in the velodrome, where British cyclists destroyed the competition. What's been most striking, however, is how the fringe sports have performed. In gymnastics, diving and now hockey, medals aren't just being won, but history is being made.

The Team GB women, the likes of Max Whitlock and diving pair Jack Laugher and Chris Mears, have set new standards. In doing so, Britain has created a generation of trailblazers who are promoting the virtues of British sport. Britain is being taken seriously again.

This hasn't happened by accident. It's by having the right infrastructure to allow these gymnasts, hockey players and divers to flourish. The funding has been a big part of it, but more than anything it's the coaching. Team GB have got the right people in place, and that basic principle is making them a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

It was a wonderful display of machismo and desire from the GB women as they took hockey gold. Who will be next?

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