Hollie Pearne-Webb believes Tokyo delay will help Team GB

Good things come to those who wait and Belper’s Hollie Pearne-Webb believes an extra 12 months will suit Team GB perfectly, as they plot an assault on another Olympic hockey gold next summer.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 8:10 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 8:10 pm
Hollie Pearne-Webb in action for Great Britain. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

Approximately nine million tuned of us into watch GB beat the Netherlands, with Pearne-Webb scoring the decisive penalty in a pulsating gold medal match in one of Rio 2016’s standout moments.

However, the road since that day has been bumpy – with stalwarts such as Helen Richardson-Walsh and captain Kate Richardson-Walsh retiring, while replacement Alex Danson-Bennett was forced into early retirement after suffering a mild traumatic brain injury while on holiday.

Head coach Danny Kerry also left to manage the men’s team, with New Zealand’s Mark Hager now in charge.

Belper’s Pearne-Webb is now captain, a job she’s still settling into after Danson-Bennett’s retirement earlier this year – even though she held the role in a temporary capacity while her predecessor was injured.

However, a new group of players knitted slowly and it was only after a two-legged play-off win against Chile in November that their place in Tokyo was secured.

Results have steadily improved this year though, with a 3-0 against Commonwealth champions New Zealand away from home in February, but just as their tails were up, Covid-19 struck.

And, although lockdown has played havoc with athlete’s preparations plans, Pearne-Webb believes it will only help their bid for hockey gold.

“It has been a challenging period and there has been some ups and downs but when I look back at the four years leading into Rio, it was exactly the same,” said the 29-year-old, who is one of more than 1,100 athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme, funded by The National Lottery.

“Five weeks out from the Olympics, we came fifth out of six at a tournament and then we didn’t do very well at the 2014 World Cup.

“Looking back, the journey to Rio – and how hard that was – it was made it all so much better. It made us tighter as a squad and that is what has happened here too.

“I think it will come together at just the right time.”

Lockdown took some adjustment for Pearne-Webb, who leads a busy life. Off the pitch, she works part-time for Defra, the government’s environment department, and is aiming to finish her accountancy exams by next summer.

When lockdown was announced, she volunteered with a SOS group in Bourne End, Berkshire – collecting prescriptions and fetching shopping for those most at need.

“It is quite nice getting to know people even though you don’t really know them, you just drop the food off at the doorstep and go,” she said.

“You get to know their shopping lists and what they’re having for tea, some of the ingredients I have never heard of! It’s nice.”

At home, she and her husband converted the garage into a makeshift gym, while the break from training allowed the squad, who communicated daily via Zoom, to connect on another level.

“It has enabled us some time that we don’t normally get to have conversations with individuals in the squad, not about hockey but about family,” added Pearne-Webb, who contributed to one of the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won since National Lottery funding began in 1997.

“We see each other every day but there are so many meetings involved, you don’t always talk to people. Now, we are doing that more.

“I think it will bring us closer together and that can only be a good thing.”

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