Maddie Hinch and Sophie Ainsworth: Sussex athletes look ahead to Rio 2016

Sophie Ainsworth (left) with team mate Charlotte Dobson (Photo by Andre Bittencourt/British Sailing

Sophie Ainsworth (left) with team mate Charlotte Dobson (Photo by Andre Bittencourt/British Sailing Team) - Credit: Archant

With the world’s eyes on Rio next month, Team GB has a number of Sussex athletes in its ranks. West Chiltington hockey player Maddie Hinch and Chichester sailor Sophie Ainsworth talk preparations with Clive Agran

Thirteen-year-old Maddie Hinch went in goal for her first game of hockey in her new school because no-one else wanted to. Fourteen years later, she is indisputably one of the very best goalkeepers in the world.

With 83 England international caps, the woman from West Sussex is now firmly established as England’s number one, number one. In the Great Britain Olympic squad, she also looks certain to be between the posts when Team GB goes for gold this summer in Rio.

Maddie already has a silver medal, which she picked up when keeping goal for England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. “We were leading 1-0 in the final against Australia with about 15 seconds to go when we conceded a penalty corner from which they scored. And we lost the penalty shoot-out. Although silver was pretty good, the experience was heartbreaking.”

Maddie is convinced that the disappointment strengthened the team’s resolve not to let it happen again. So when England made it into the final of last year’s EuroHockey Championships, there was a steely determination that saw them come from 2-0 down in the final to eventually overcome the Netherlands in another shoot-out. The following day’s back-page headline summed it up: “Hinch the Heroine as England Produce Incredible Final Comeback.”

“I still get goosebumps when I think about that match. I can’t describe how emotional it was,” she says. With all the euphoria and post-match celebrations, Maddie was unaware that in making a spectacular save in the vital penalty shoot-out, she had injured her knee and was about to be sidelined for three months. “I’ve had lots of bruises but that was the only serious injury I’ve suffered. People think I’m fearless but, without my pads, I’m really a wimp!”

Maddie was named Sky Sportswoman of the Month, an award she has won twice. The team were nominated for the BBC Sports Team of the Year and won the Sky Sports Team of the Year. Where does Maddie put all the trophies? “They all go home to mum and dad to look after in West Chiltington.”

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Since being selected for the Great Britain Olympic squad, Maddie is either playing hockey or training every day. “I’m effectively a full-time athlete with very little in the way of free time. It’s a pretty intense lifestyle but I do occasionally switch off and relax with my family and friends.”

What about the future? “I’m contemplating possibly playing abroad, maybe in Holland. As for life after hockey, I’ve absolutely no idea. I went straight into hockey from university and I’ve given no thought to what I’m going to do when I join what my brother calls the ‘real world’. But I do know I’m going to put that off for as long as I can.”

Hockey player Maddie Hinch (Photo by Ady Kerry)

Hockey player Maddie Hinch (Photo by Ady Kerry) - Credit:

Sailor Sophie Ainsworth will be representing Great Britain at the Olympics in Rio and acknowledges the vital part sibling rivalry played in getting her there. “I only became interested in competitive sailing after a few years of following my brother around. I got bored of watching him and so gave up horse riding to try to beat him!”

When her family moved to Chichester, Sophie joined Itchenor Sailing Club and from then on it was plain sailing all the way to last year’s World Championships. Sophie and her sailing partner Charlotte Dobson finished fifth in the 49er FX class.

Remarkably Itchenor Sailing Club has produced another British Olympic competitor, Ben Saxton who will be sailing his Nacra 17 in Rio. When asked what’s the secret of Itchenor’s success, Sophie replied: “If I told you that I’d have to shoot you. Itchenor is such a wonderful club. Good sailors need a love for the sport and Itchenor really resonates this.”

Fortunately, the conditions in Chichester Harbour are not that dissimilar from those 26-year-old Sophie will encounter at the Olympics. “The waters we race on at Itchenor are much like Rio. It’s tactical and there is a huge tidal element, which creates challenging racing that means you need to stay switched on.”

Presently living in Weymouth with the rest of the British team, Sophie is totally dedicated. Speaking earlier this year, she said: “We are very busy sailing but are careful not to burn ourselves out. We aim to do a 10-day block of training with one or two days rest, then have about a week off the water. We are at home in the UK right now and plan to sail five days a week with the weekends off for three weeks before our World Cup competition in Weymouth in June. A competition is usually six days long and we would ideally have a week off afterwards to recover.”

This punishing regime doesn’t leave much time for other things but when not sailing or in the gym Sophie enjoys kite-surfing, indoor climbing (or bouldering as it’s called) and baking. “I love to bake, it’s a therapeutic and rewarding hobby, although sometimes I enjoy eating the cake mixture more than the cake!”

Realistically, what’s the best Sophie can do? “I believe Charlotte and I can stand on top of the podium with Olympic gold medals. The Olympics is about who can perform on the day and I believe we can.”

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, support women’s hockey from grass roots to national level – or on Twitter @Investec_Sport

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