Hockeyroos move on from recent turmoil as different kind of heat builds in Tokyo

Inspired by their new coach, Australia’s Hockeyroos insist they have overcome internal turmoil ahead of their Tokyo 2020 campaign opener this weekend.

Katrina Powell was installed just three months ago after former coach Paul Gaudoin resigned in the wake of a damning independent review, which revealed a “dysfunctional culture” amid allegations of bullying and a toxic environment. A two-time Olympic gold medallist during the team’s golden era in the late 1990s, Powell is hoping to lead the Hockeyroos back to the Olympic podium after a two-decade absence.

“It has been a bit of a whirlwind,” said the new coach on Friday following a final training session, ahead of the Hockeyroos’ encounter with Spain on Sunday. “The team culture is really fantastic at the moment – I’ve found them to be a really committed, enthusiastic and purpose-driven team. We’re all here to be successful – that’s what can unite a group – and that’s certainly what has happened here.”

Team veteran Edwina Bone insisted that the internal turmoil was “100% history”. Bone was on the verge of retirement after the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, but decided she could not leave in the midst of the team’s rebuilding effort.

“There was quite a lot of stuff that went on at the end of last year,” she said. “I felt that we really needed to band together, to stay together, in the push to make sure that this Olympics were successful and we weren’t falling by the wayside. The connections I have with the girls is what kept me wanting more from this group, wanting to help this group succeed at this Olympics.”

Bone said that recruitment of Powell, the team’s first female coach in almost half a century, had lifted the team. “It was rough [during the turmoil], but at this stage – with Triny [Powell’s nickname] at the head – we’ve been able to gel as a group,” she said. “The first female coach we’ve had in 40 or 50 years. She’s really inspirational to our group – we look up to her as our leader and we just want to follow in her footsteps, because she was a very successful hockey player herself.”

Having overcome their internal challenges, the Hockeyroos will now face stiff competition during the Olympic tournament in the coming week. With the Perth-based national side having been unable to compete over the past year and a half – other than a series of games against New Zealand – they arrived in Tokyo as an unknown quantity.

“I think [the absence of competition] is pretty even throughout the pool,” said Powell. “The European countries just had the Euros, so I think they are at a slight advantage, and we have Spain first up, so we are going to need to be ready to go. But they haven’t had an abundance of matches either. So it will be interesting to see how everyone turns up.”

The other major challenge in Tokyo is the heat. While the Hockeyroos’ first match on Sunday is scheduled for mid-morning, it will already be approaching 30C and humid. Following their training session on Friday, the team were seen eagerly consuming bright blue iced slushies.

“The heat will be a challenge,” said Powell. “But we are ready to meet that challenge.” The Hockeyroos spent their last week in Australia training in Darwin, to acclimatise ahead of the Olympics. “We’ve done lots of training for the heat here – we’ve prepped for that,” said Amy Lawton, the highly-rated 19-year-old Olympic debutante. “We did some stuff in the heat chamber back home, learning how we can cool down more efficiency in the breaks.”

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If the Hockeyroos progress to the medal matches, they are likely to face the No 1-ranked Netherlands. “It is their Olympics to lose,” said Powell. “I’m sure that they will turn up and perform as we know that they can. But no team is invincible either.”

An Australian-Netherlands clash in the latter stages of the tournament would see Powell face off against her old teammate, Alyson Annan, who was part of the Olympic gold medal winning Hockeyroos in 1996 and 2000 and now coaches the Dutch.

“We were part of a successful group, and you’re not successful over a long period of time if you’re not competitive,” said Powell. “We’re still both competitive – we’ve been in touch over Messenger when I first got the role – so I know the competitive juices are still there. It would be great to face Alyson in an Olympic competition.”