Hinch: ”I spent two years basically saying "I’m okay" to everyone but feeling the complete opposite’ (Image: Getty Images)
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Maddie Hinch was Britain’s golden girl at the last Olympics – and it came close to breaking her.
The hockey heroine saved all four penalties for Team GB as world champions Holland were sensationally beaten in a dramatic shoot-out.
She became the face of the team triumph, reminiscent of Jonny Wilkinson when England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
And like Wilko before her Hinch was neither prepared for the fame game nor armed with the tools to cope with the sudden scrutiny.
“I didn’t know how to manage the attention, I really wasn’t ready for it,” she admitted. “The first two years were challenging in so many ways. I just completely burned myself out.”
It is Hinch’s way to strive for perfection. When the final went to a shootout she had already done her homework on the Dutch penalty takers. She knew what was coming.
“That’s me, I constantly want to do everything to my best,” she said. “But when you’re then put on a pedestal as some faultless superhero, like it’s so far from the truth.
“I get stuff wrong like anyone else. But I wanted everyone to keep talking positively about me so I spent two years trying to be perfect. It was an impossible task. I was living in fear of making a mistake.”
Team GB's golden girls celebrate becoming Olympic hockey champions
Rugby World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson
That only added stress to the sense of guilt she already felt at getting so much of the attention for what was a team triumph.
“We obviously couldn’t have achieved what we did without every single person on the team playing their part,” she said.
“So it’s a really hard thing to live with in a team environment, being constantly the person people reach out to.”
Hinch in action against Netherlands' Xan de Waard during 2016 Olympic final in Rio
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Little wonder it all proved too much. Early last year she was diagnosed with depression and needed time away from the front line to reset.
“I don’t think anybody had experienced anything like that, not in our sport,” Hinch reflected. “We’re almost trained to put on a level of ‘I’m okay’ as athletes. ‘I’m really fine, I’m strong, it’s all good’.
“I spent two years basically saying that to everyone but feeling the complete opposite.
Hinch saves from Netherland's Maartje Paumen during Olympic final penalty shootout
(Image: PA Archive/PA Images)
“Look, I know hockey is small and I’m tiny in comparison to say a footballer with millions of followers. But in my world it was quite intense.
“It was a wake-up call. It’s not that I don’t strive to be the best any more. I am as competitive as ever. But we’re human and we have to give ourselves a break every now and again.”
Lockdown provided that time for everyone and now, back in pads and face mask, Hinch is ready to repel the best the world can throw at her.
Inside a week Britain face South Africa, India, Netherlands, Belgium and, first up this Sunday, Germany.
“As reigning gold medallists we’ve got a target on our backs, we know that,” said the RedBull athlete.
“But a lot of people would give an arm to be able to say, for even a day, ‘I’m an Olympic champion’, so we’re going to embrace that.”