The New Zealand Women’s hockey team has been named to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games next month.
It’s a team brimming with experience and talent, including five players who have played more than 200 internationals for their country. The players were welcomed to the Olympic team at an announcement event co-hosted by the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Hockey New Zealand in Mount Eden this afternoon.
Talismanic midfielder Kayla Whitelock (247 tests) will suit up for her fourth Olympic Games having already competed at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
Meanwhile Rio signals a third campaign for Gemma Flynn who first played at the Beijing Games as an 18-year-old, while Anita McLaren, Sam Charlton, Stacey Michelsen and Charlotte Harrison all head to their second Olympic Games having competed at London 2012.
Only three of the 16 players selected have played less than 100 games - defender Brooke Neal (88 tests) and strikers Kirsten Pearce (54) and Kelsey Smith (20).
Capital’s Smith is the bolter of the group, having been rewarded for her impressive performances at the International Hockey Open in Darwin and Champions Trophy in London earlier this year.
Smith is one of three hugely talented 21-year-olds in the team alongside Canterbury striker Sophie Cocks and Auckland defender Liz Thompson.
The team will be captained by Whitelock, with support from a leadership group which includes McLaren, Michelsen and Charlton.
New Zealand’s most capped women’s player of all-time Emily Gaddum (274 tests) was unavailable for selection due to pregnancy with her first child.
Head coach Mark Hager said the team selected is very well balanced with a lot of experience and confidence.
“We’re taking away a very strong team, it’s well balanced and contains some great experience with six players who have been to an Olympic Games before, along with plenty of Commonwealth Games and World Cup experience,” Hager said.
“This team is capable of medalling and we have proven over recent times that we can win in those high pressure situations which we will certainly face in Rio.”
New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith passed on her congratulations to the women’s team as the inclusion of the hockey team brings the overall team numbers to 177 athletes.
“Across the 16 players named in the women’s hockey team today there is an excellent mix of experience and enthusiasm,” said Smith.
“Both of our hockey teams will be competing right through the Games schedule and we look forward to supporting them as they take to the turf at the new Deodoro Olympic Hockey Centre. It’s certainly an exciting challenge that lies ahead and we wish the team all the best in the final month of their preparation.”
High Performance Sport New Zealand CEO Alex Baumann also voiced his support of the team as they locked in their selection for the Games.
“We believe this is one of our strongest hockey squads to attend an Olympic Games. The experience within the squad is supported by an exciting pipeline of talent and I would like to congratulate the athletes selected today and wish Mark and the team every success in their continued preparations for Rio."
The New Zealand Women open their campaign on Monday 8th August against Korea at 1:00am (NZ time), while the Men face Trans-Tasman rivals Australia first up at 4:30am on Sunday 7th August.
Two pitches will host both events and for the first time in an Olympic hockey competition, quarter-finals will be played with the top four teams from each pool qualifying for the knock-out stages.
Olympic Summer Games
The winners of the quarter-finals will qualify for the semi-finals which will determine who will play in the gold and bronze medal matches, which are scheduled for Friday 19th August.
New Zealand hockey teams have won several Commonwealth Games medals dating back to Kuala Lumpur 1998 right through to Glasgow 2014. The Olympic hockey highlight for New Zealand came at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976 when the men's hockey team triumphed over Australia to claim the gold medal.