“I remember I was doing a really gruelling training session. My granny called me and said: ‘I just saw on the news that the Olympics is postponed.’
“I stopped midway through and was like I am not doing this. One set down and I just walked home.”
Great Britain and England hockey star and Olympic gold medallist Lily Owsley is reliving when she found out the Tokyo Olympics were postponed.
The GB hockey team were midway through a tour of New Zealand and Australia in February when word first reached them of the coronavirus.
“We started hearing about it on the news, but we were all like it’s going to be fine it’s just going to be one of these things that comes and goes,” says Owsley, who won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Then when we flew back through Singapore it was actually quite shocking. Everybody was masked which sounds so normal now but at the time it wasn’t.”
Despite the rising number of cases in the UK, domestic hockey continued with Owsley playing for Hampstead & Westminster in the Women’s Premier Division.
There were even still plans for a GB tour of South Africa in March.
Then on 15 March domestic hockey was put on hold, the same week all hockey for the GB team was postponed.
The team carried on preparing for the Olympics during lockdown, training at home with individualised programmes.
Owsley was helped by living and training with her brother Freddie, a professional rugby player with Bristol Bears.
However the fear of the Olympics being cancelled made staying motivated difficult.
“Olympic year is brutal in terms of the training. Motivation is there because the Olympics is like a carrot dangling but then as soon as that was in question, I found it really hard to motivate myself.”
At the end of March the inevitable happened and the Olympics was postponed.
When Owsley heard the news from her grandma she had mixed emotions.
“Part of me was relieved. I don’t think its negative to say we weren’t quite ready for the Olympics in 2020, so it gave us an opportunity we wouldn’t have had.
“We could say we don’t have to go 100 miles an hour to learn all of this, we can actually take our time and do it properly.”
Return to playing
GB hockey started training again in June after a four-month break away from team sessions.
“When I got back I absolutely loved it,” said Owsley.
“I found I had so much more of an appreciation. It took almost four months to strip back all the pressure and to just miss playing the sport.”
With the return to training, vigorous new safety protocols were brought in for the team including banning changing rooms and compulsory mask wearing.
They had to start again in preparing for next July’s Tokyo Olympics, without initially being able to play competitive matches.
However, with a new coach appointed in Mark Hager and several younger players brought into the squad following the retirement of key personnel, this may turn out to be an advantage for the young side.
International hockey fixtures resumed in October. Despite all three countries being in some form of lockdown at the time, the GB team travelled to Holland and Belgium for their first international games in almost nine months.
Covid precautions on tour included travelling on multiple buses to socially distance, eating on tables alone with gloves on and team meetings over zoom.
Even with the surreal environment, Owsley felt the team needed to be tested in games.
“No amount of training can ever replicate the want to win and the adrenaline of a game.
“I felt a bit numb training and waiting, it was so good to feel alive again in a match.”
The tour was a success for the side, beating Belgium twice and narrowly losing to world number one ranked team the Netherlands in a shootout.
Road to Tokyo
With a return to matches and encouraging recent performances, the side is looking ahead to next year’s Olympics with confidence.
Owsley thinks the side have improved: “I feel like we’ve learnt so much, even from June to now, especially tactically because we’ve had time on our hands.
“Those games in October and November were really important to find out where we’re actually at. We played as a much more experienced team than at the start of 2020.”
In February the side is planning to play matches abroad in a humid climate to replicate the conditions in Tokyo.
Training in heat chambers was used extensively before Rio 2016 but these are now banned due to covid.
“This year’s all about becoming more consistent. We’ve beaten all the best teams in the world recently, but we’ve also lost to a lot of them.
“We have the ability and we have the belief, we just need to be able to grind out results. It’s about balancing that nice style of hockey with that ugly win-at-all-costs style.”
The side’s next confirmed games are at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in May 2021. Tickets are available at Hockey Family window.