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Guy’s World: Gutted Over The Hockey

“Gutted mate, just gutted.” This choice phrase would be on the top ten to come out of any sports ground around the country, when the home team loses. Sports mad Kiwis are regularly gutted, whether it’s the All Blacks losing, the Hurricanes, or the Onslow College second IV.

I can’t often get emotionally involved enough to really feel gutted by a sports result, though I love to see our teams win. I was at the Bledisloe Cup test in Wellington earlier this year, when John Eales nailed a last minute penalty to beat the All Blacks. The final throw of the dice went against us in a good, tight game. I was disappointed, but not gutted.

But the New Zealand women’s hockey team’s draw against Spain in the medal round was a genuinely gutting experience. The girls had clawed their way to a 2-1 lead against the defensive Spanish in a typically plucky display, which should have seen them well on their way into medal contention. A questionable umpiring decision and a momentary lapse of concentration was all it took to tear months of hard work out from underneath them.

I was down with Kiwi coach Jan Borren when he ranted about the power tripping umpires stealing our match by awarding Spain a free hit, which they scored from. It made me mad every time I thought about it for the next couple of days. I can’t imagine what Borren was feeling, or indeed the players, who had worked so hard.

That moment seemed to break our hockey girls’ spirit. When they went back out to play Argentina a couple of days later they weren’t themselves. The Argentineans embarrassed them 1-7, knocking them back to 6th place in the competition and ending their hopes of a dream date with Australia in the gold medal match.

Kiwi goal keeper Helen Clarke quipped to Paul Holmes, as he raked over the coals of the hockey girls pain a couple of days later, that the team should get a cheap sports psychologist so they could get over it quickly. But even the team joker couldn’t hide the medal shaped hole in her heart.

The hockey girls won a lot of fans with their performances in Sydney, people who’d never watched hockey before and maybe never will again. I’d never watched the game – the national stadium is just up the road and I hadn’t even noticed.

But at the Olympics, where most sports are tainted by drugs and dollars, the hockey girls were a breath of fresh, Olympic spirit flavoured air. They exceeded our wildest expectations of them, playing tough and gritty hockey to notch up two wins and two draws – two more wins than New Zealand women’s hockey has ever achieved at any Olympics before.

They worked together to be much greater than the sum of their parts, like an unusually functional family. They made enormous sacrifices – holding down day jobs and giving up all their spare time to train, while some other athletes made millions just for wearing the sponsor’s product on their drug enhanced bodies. They also looked much spunkier in their uniforms than any of the other hockey teams.

The hockey girls dared to dream they could be medal contenders, and impressed the country so much with their spirit we couldn’t help dreaming with them. They rated better than the All Blacks, they even pushed One News out of it’s 6pm time slot for the do or die match with Argentina.

The team haven’t forgiven themselves yet for the way they let things slip away. They expected a lot from themselves, and as they notched up good results, we came to expect a lot from them too.

I hope when the disappointment eases the girls feel proud of their achievements. And I hope when they get home, New Zealand lets them know we’re proud of them too.

Because they’re worth it.

Feedback: guy@scoop.co.nz

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