Team GB Exclusive: The ongoing Richardson-Walsh rollercoaster

Combine an Olympic bronze medal, double back surgery, a broken jaw and a wedding, and it’s clear to see why the last four years have been something of a rollercoaster ride for Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh.

Following their success at London 2012, at which Kate was ruled out for two games after her mandible fell victim to a wayward stick, hockey’s golden girls tied the knot in September 2013, five years after first becoming an item at the Beijing Olympics.

But that year wasn’t all rosy for the couple, as Helen went under the knife twice in the space of 11 months to mend a ruptured disc in her back, leading to her exclusion from the World Cup squad and an intense battle to regain her fitness.

That situation wasn’t easy for the couple as Kate headed to the Netherlands alone, but as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the pair admit they couldn’t have achieved what they have without the other by their side.

“The last four years have been an absolute rollercoaster,” said Kate. “Helen has had double back surgery, and has gone from probably not playing again to standing on the podium in 2015 as European Champion, and I think that in itself is an unbelievable story.

“But then we’ve got married and I received my MBE and there have just been so many peaks and troughs over the years, but every week is like that too.

“So we’re living a rollercoaster every week, but with the Olympics on the horizon, it’s on a much bigger scale.”

Helen added: “It feels like the last 15 years have been compressed into the four years because we’ve had the very worst times but then some incredible highs.

“Anybody who works with their partner knows there will be difficult times, but fundamentally, it is amazing.

“You get to share the most amazing experiences with the person you love, and that is incredible for us.

“For us, we have shared the journey right from the start, so if we are both in Rio at our fourth Olympics, it would be amazing, especially if we finish on the podium with a gold medal.”

As with any athlete, the Olympic Games have been the highlight of two dazzling careers for the Richardson-Walsh household.

Having made their Olympic debuts together at Sydney 2000, the couple have appeared at three of the four Games since – the team failed to qualify for Athens 2004 – and could both be on the plane to Rio in just a handful of weeks’ time.

And while they refuse to speculate on whether this will be their last outing in red, white and blue, they admit the Olympics will always hold a special place in their hearts as Team GB look to secure a first-ever women’s hockey gold medal at the Games.

“It’s hard to put into words what the Olympics mean to us,” said Helen. “We say that it is the pinnacle of our sport and we have been watching it since we were young, but that really doesn’t do it justice.

“The amount that we train every day for years and years to go to the Olympic Games is so incredible. It’s where everybody wants to be because the teams are the very best in the world.

“It’s so special being part of that Olympic club, and we just want to be part of the best competition in the world.”

Kate added: “You get completely absorbed by it all. Every moment of your day and night is focused on being the best hockey player you can be and hopefully from that you can be selected.

“Once you get that brilliant opportunity then you just want to go and win, and it’s just magic.

“You know it is coming every four years and it is constantly on the horizon. It has been career-defining for both of us, if not life-defining.”

By Katie Falkingham

Sportsbeat 2016