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The Women's Sports Alliance

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Olympic hockey champion Lily Owsley – ‘winning is addictive – and I want more!’

“This might sound selfish and greedy, but I want more,” Lily Owsley tells the WSA. “I don't feel completely satisfied with what I've achieved yet. The thought of winning even more is what drives me!”

Image courtesy of England Hockey / GB Hockey


With a host of Olympic, Commonwealth and European successes among her bulging medal collection Lily Owsley understandably feels “very lucky” to be living through a truly ‘golden era’ for British women’s hockey.


Successes does not come without sacrifice though and behind the glory stands an astounding level of graft; for this is a team which has undergone significant shifts since finishing third at London 2012.


A 17-year-old Lily watched on as her idols battled to bronze in front of home fans in 2012.


It was an achievement which marked the start of an astounding decade, where although the British women would not quite dominate like their Dutch rivals, they became a regular major medal-winning team for the first time in history.


'Jumping on the bandwagon of success'

Image courtesy of @lilyowsley


Lily’s maiden experience of this came at the 2015 EuroHockey which England won, on home soil.


It secured the British women a place at the Rio 2016 Games, where they went on to claim a first-ever Olympic title.


The team find themselves in a similar situation in 2023, knowing victory at this year’s edition of the EuroHockey, in Germany, will guarantee their participation at the 2024 Olympics.


Those would be Lily’s third Games and while the now 28-year-old is “excited” about the team’s prospects ahead of the ‘push for Paris’ she is in reflective mood.


“It's been amazing and I feel very lucky for what I've experienced in my career, especially so early on,” the Bristol-born international tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).


“That journey (for the team) before I even came in was huge though and I kind of ‘jumped on the bandwagon’ right at the end and was like, ‘Oh, this is great!’


“We just turned up at Olympics, my first Olympics, we didn't lose a game and we won (gold) and I was like ‘What was it people were saying about it being so hard? This is easy and this is great.’


“I think I think the caveat to that is then losses come a lot harder.”


You win or you learn

Image courtesy of England Hockey / GB Hockey


The group who valiantly battled to bronze at London 2012 were largely retained for one final push for glory at the Olympics four years later; which they achieved after a dramatic penalty shootout victory over defending champions the Netherlands.


The post-Games retirements of inspirational trio Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, as well as Crista Cullen, hit the team particularly hard and they understandably struggled to not only replace them, but also perform under the ‘Olympic champions’ spotlight.


There would be medals – bronze at the 2017 Europeans and 2018 Commonwealth Games – but major honours, as well as much sought-after World Cup success illuded them.


“I was so lucky that in that first cycle we won so much because it was the end of a huge, decade-long journey of getting to that point and we had to start again in so many aspects,” Lily recalls.


“I think sometimes as a young player, and I certainly was guilty of it, you can think winning medals just happens, because they did it in London and we did it in Rio, but I really learned in my second (Olympic) cycle that it's not that easy.


“I think that's why Tokyo (2020 Olympics, in 2021) was so hard, but also so rewarding at the end when we got a bronze medal but it wasn't easy.


“That’s something we, now as more experienced players, try to instil in the younger ones.


“Yes, we’ve won medals at each of the last three Olympics, but it doesn’t just happen and that success is no guarantee it will happen again in Paris, there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes beforehand to make that possible.”


Leading by example on and off the pitch

Image courtesy of England Hockey / GB Hockey


Since making her international debut in 2013, Lily has gone on to make over 200 combined appearances for England, as well as Great Britain, and is fully aware of her changing role in the teams.


“Back then I was the baby and I think subconsciously that takes a lot of pressure off because while I wanted to deliver as a young player, I knew and relied on the senior players to step up and ‘bring it’ in big moments,” Lily tells the WSA.


“Now as a senior player, I want to take that pressure off the young players and deliver like those before delivered for me.


“That responsibility does bring pressure, but I like to think I play my best when I'm under that kind of pressure to perform and when I feel people are leaning on me.”


Lily was part of the England team who delivered a landmark Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning performance in front of home fans at Birmingham 2022.

Image courtesy of England Hockey / GB Hockey


She was delighted by the contribution it made continued momentum building behind the women’s sport movement in the UK, which she believes was kick-started by Team GB’s victory at Rio 2016 and has been maintained by others across the sporting spectrum.


‘The great thing about women's sport is they all kind of support each other,” states the Olympic champion.


“When one is successful it really has an impact on the other, so when the football girls did amazing, there were more people wanting to watch hockey and wanted to watch women's cricket, women's rugby and of course the women's netball have just done fantastically.


“Hockey is part of that but we know that as players we need to keep delivering success to keep up the exposure and boost participation.


“Yes, it can be frustrating but it’s part and parcel of our jobs, trying to inspire people to play hockey and to get young girls watching who want to be part of our group, which is why we’re so aware of our position as role models on and off the pitch.”


PARIS PROSPECTS AND CHASING THAT 'WINNING HIGH'

Images courtesy of @lilyowsley


Lily is one of only four players from the Rio 2016 squad selected to represent Great Britain at this year’s EuroHockey in Monchengladbach, Germany, but she believes the current line-up has “amazing” potential.


“I feel like we’re on the precipice of something pretty great,” she tells the WSA.


“We’ve been on a bit of a ‘rollercoaster’ with results and we're not the best team in the world, we're not the most talented team in the world, but we have something else which is important because it takes so much more than being amazing at hockey to win.


“We have the programme, the culture and a work-ethic which means we’ll leave no stone unturned in pursuit of our goals and we have the capacity to challenge every single team.”


As previously mentioned, Lily’s ambitions are undiminished and she aims to help the new generation of British hockey players reach the summit of the sport.


“Without wanting to sound too much like an addict, when you win and when you reach those highs, you’re not really satisfied because you just craved it even more,” she says with a smile.


“This is a special group and I want my new teammates to experience it because that ‘high’ after winning the Olympics, Euros or Commonwealths is one of the best feeling you can have.


“Especially when you know everyone has worked for one another.”

Image courtesy of @lilyowsley

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