Tokyo Olympic Games 2020

  • Great Britain come from 3-2 down to win 4-3 in searing Tokyo heat
  • Grace Balsdon scores winner from penalty corner in final quarter

Bronze, gold, bronze. Great Britains women made history by getting ribbon round their necks for a third straight Olympic Games take note, men thanks to Grace Balsdons decisive penalty corner strike to win a thrilling, helter-skelter bronze medal final against India.
Who says nobody cares about losers finals? This was a pulsating match, Britain racing into a 2-0 lead before India hit back with three goals in four minutes, only for the deposed champions to drag themselves off the canvas in the second half and eventually prevail 4-3. It was a triumph of resilience as much as anything else and also meant they made history as the first British Olympic hockey team, male or female, to win a medal at three consecutive Games. These girls can.
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Laura Unsworth, the 33-year-old midfielder, is a history-maker of her own, having played in all three of those campaigns: bronze at home in London in 2012, the fairytale gold in Rio in 2016, and now bronze again in Tokyo. Im speechless, she said. Im just so proud of every single one of the girls. We dug in so deep today and to come away with an Olympic bronze medal after the last five years, its such an achievement for this group of players and Im so, so happy.
But could Tokyo bronze mean as much as Rio gold? Out of all the cycles Ive been part of, this has been my most challenging and as a team it has been our most challenging, replied Unsworth. It probably is up there with the Rio gold medal.
If someone had told me when I first started playing hockey aged 11 that I would win three Olympic medals, I would have just looked at them and gone, You what?. When I look back on my career I can think its been pretty special.
The match was played in searing heat and in the third quarter Olympic hockey history was also made when the first mid-quarter drinks break took place as the pitch-side temperature reached 42C. It begged the question: why were the players being put through this?
The womens football gold medal match had also been scheduled to begin on the same brutally hot Tokyo morning. But after some pressure the football was switched to the slightly cooler evening. It seems reasonable to think this match could also have been moved to sundown as an appetiser to the Netherlands-Argentina main course. Starting at 2.30am in London and 7am in Mumbai doesnt do hockeys exposure to the TV masses any favours either.
But if hockey will forever be a poor relation to football in the harsh world of headlines and sponsorship, and a bronze medal match in any sport is always the bridesmaid, there was no mistaking the desire of Great Britain to go home with a medal.
From pushback it was a wave of red attacking India, whose goalkeeper Savita was forced into two excellent saves in the first quarter as GB enjoyed the lions share of possession. Thirty seconds into the second quarter Britain made the breakthrough. Ellie Rayer burst down the right and dribbled her way to the byline, then flashed a dangerous ball across the face of goal which was deflected into the net by an Indian stick.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0, a free-flowing move down the right finished in style by Sarah Robertson. Britain were in command. But India werent reading the script and the match was turned on its head in four astonishing minutes.
First, Gurjit Kaur swept past Maddie Hinch in Britains goal from a penalty corner. A minute later she repeated the trick, a superbly precise penalty corner drag-flick levelling the match. Indias tails were up and moments later Sharmila Devi was clean through but Hinch did enough to put her off.
India werent done yet and, incredibly, scored a third when Vandana Katariya flicked home in a goalmouth scramble with Britain reeling on the ropes. Half-time couldnt come soon enough.
The break gave Britain time to clear their heads and they set off in the second half like a team possessed. Within five minutes the match was level at 3-3 when the captain Hollie Pearne-Webb fired high into Savitas net.
Britain turned the screw and they took back the lead three minutes into the final quarter when India were a player down to a yellow card, Balsdons clinical penalty corner ricocheting off the backboard to cheers from the British contingent in the stadium.
From there, it was game management to the hooter and a hard-fought medal. If the future is always going to be shaded orange in womens hockey given Dutch domination, the future for GB feels pretty bright too after a tournament in which only the Netherlands stood head and shoulders above them.
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