Rob Tanner talks to one of four West Midlanders in the GB ladies hockey team – and finds she has a surprising source of inspiration.
Great Britain’s women’s hockey team could not face a tougher test in Beijing. But the squad is determined to make up for missing out on Athens four years ago and ready to spring a few surprises.
The women’s squad, which contains four West Midlanders – Bromsgrove’s Jennie Bimson, Birmingham’s Lucilla Wright, Wolverhampton’s Charlotte Craddock and Rachel Walker of Halesowen – qualified for the Olympic Games by finishing third at the European Championships in Manchester after beating Spain in a play-off and now must face reigning Olympic champions Germany, Argentina, who are ranked second in the world, Japan, the United States and New Zealand, if they are to progress from Pool B.
However, there is no shortage of experience in the squad and many of the players are battle-hardened, especially Bimson who carries more than a few scares of previous campaigns.
The 31-year-old had to have a metal plate inserted in her head after one on-pitch incident and she has vowed to put her body on the line once more in Beijing.
“I was hit in the face in a World Cup game against India in 2006,” recalls Bimson, who only took up hockey after being banned from playing football and finding netball ‘too timid’.
“I nicked the ball away and she followed through and caught me in the face. I had the surgery and I do feel it sometimes but it doesn’t set off alarms at the airport or anything like that!
Bimson is an experienced international having played in three World Cups and European Cups since her England debut against Germany in 1997.
With 155 caps for England and over 30 for Great Britain, Beijing will be her first Olympic Games. Twice a silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games, Bimson currently plays for Leicester and combines her hockey career with working in sports public relations and marketing. Now she can’t wait for the action to start.
“We didn’t qualify for Athens in 2004 and I was injured for Sydney in 2000 so this will be my first Games,” she said. “We had to come through a tough European qualifying event in Manchester and we managed to grab the last of the three available spots.
“We are confident but we have a tricky draw. We play Germany in the first game, who are the reigning Olympic champions, and then Argentina. We also face Japan, who are a strong side, so it is really a case of taking each game as it comes. We have to be aware that all the teams are good because they have had to be to qualify.
“It is a tough start but we will be up for it. We are a very close bunch and I have been playing with some of the girls for around ten years. We have grown up with each other and we train together all the time.
“I am looking forward to the whole occasion and especially doing the lap during the opening ceremony. It will be unbelievable. China is going to put on a great show to prove what a powerful nation it is.”
Away from hockey, Bimson can count Aston Villa as one of her marketing clients and she admits she has a soft spot for the club, not because she is a fan of the team but of manager Martin O’Neill.
Now she is hoping O’Neill’s sage-like wisdom will inspire her and her team-mates in Beijing.
“Martin is one of my heroes and after beating Australia in the semi-finals of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, giving Martin a high-five in the Villa dressing room is one of my most treasured sporting moments,” she said. “Now I want to create more moments to rival that by doing well in Beijing and we all believe we can do it.”