Comedy and Royal Marines prep British women for gold hunt
LONDON (Reuters) - The British women's hockey team is match fit and ready to rip up the pitch at the London 2012 Olympics after a fitness schedule that has included Royal Marine training and improv comedy.
Coach Danny Kerry told reporters at a pre-Olympics media briefing that he has subjected his players to a rigorous training and playing schedule that has prepared the world number four ranked team mentally and physically for every aspect of their toughest tournament at home and in front of the world.
"You can see by looking at the girls, especially when they've got their kit on, there will not be a better conditioned team at the Olympic Games," Kerry said.
He said the squad, who beat Argentina 2-0 to win an invitational tournament in May but lost their opening match against South Africa in the last tournament before the Olympics, has been tested and seen performance improve on every level.
The victory over Argentina was overshadowed by injuries sustained by defender Crista Cullen and forward Alex Danson, though both are available for the Olympics.
"The good news is everyone is fit and well," Kerry said. "Fortunately everyone is back and we just had a enough time to try and get them up to match pace."
The Dutch, number one in the world and fifth-placed China stand in the way of the British as they seek a top-two place in the pool of six, to clinch a semi-final. But first they will have to get past the Japanese in their opening match on Sunday.
"The only slight problem is the Japanese have been very, very crafty," Kerry said. "They've played no hockey since the qualifiers against anybody."
However, Kerry said that strategy may not serve the Japanese against his team, who have played New Zealand and Germany before the Olympics.
"The only things you can squirrel away are little set-pieces," he said.
Kerry said he thought that meeting the Dutch in their final pool game could be a good thing for the team, who are intent on being a medal contender before they reach the end of the pool stage.
"I actually think it's a really good thing we are playing them last. We all know what to do (and) I think it could be a dead rubber," he said.
Kerry and captain Kate Walsh said the team were looking to dominate by getting control of their matches and playing in their own style rather than responding to other teams.
"We just want to go out and force our game onto the competition," she said.
Kerry said he has worked hard on their physical fitness, but also to develop the tough mental attitude where they can perform no matter what kind of pressure.
Lifestyle, nutrition, hockey skills and team psychology have all been analysed, worked on and perfected, a regime that included sending the team to train with the Royal Marines in 2010.
Walsh said the training pushed them to the limits of physical and mental fatigue and helped them develop a depth of communication and understanding that has allowed the team to know what they are each thinking under pressure.
"In tough games you just know by the look, it's that level of communication," she said. "You can know what do I need from you now, what you need from me?"
Along with the hardening lessons of the Marines, Kerry also tried to prepare his athletes to take centre stage at the "greatest show on earth" by forcing them to create their own improv comedy show and perform it in front of the staff at their Bisham Abbey training centre.
To laughs from the reporters and some bashful looks from the players at the media conference alongside him, Kerry explained the psychological benefits of getting the team to undergo an uncomfortable performance in front of a home crowd was a good test for the women ahead of the Olympics at home.
"That they didn't enjoy and I think they kind of questioned the value of that."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
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