After winning bronze at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, New Zealand hockey star Rose Keddell is desperate to return to the Olympic podium again at Tokyo 2020.
Rose Keddell knows what it’s like to stand on an Olympic podium and have a medal placed around her neck. The Tauranga native was just 16 years old when she won bronze as part of the New Zealand hockey team at the YOG Singapore 2010 – and she can still vividly recall the emotions she felt in that moment.
After making it into the senior Black Sticks team two years later, Keddell was then part of the squad that competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, falling agonisingly short of the podium as they lost to Great Britain in the semi-final before a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Germany in the bronze-medal playoff.
While Keddell went on to win gold with her team-mates at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, she is still driven by her quest to return to the Olympic podium in Tokyo – an ambition that has now been postponed 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here, she looks back on her time at the YOG Singapore 2010 and reveals how those experiences have helped her in her international career since then…
How do you reflect on your experiences at the YOG Singapore 2010?
“It's so funny to look back, and I still can’t believe I actually made the team, but I actually look back with such fond memories of that experience. It was such a fantastic event and we won bronze there, which was really exciting. I remember when we won, we all came together into a huddle and were all crying; just so excited.”
How valuable is an experience like that for a young athlete?
“I think that event is such a valuable stepping-stone for anyone who wants to progress in their sport. Going to an Olympic Games is not guaranteed for any athlete; it's a really unique event and it's hard to get to. And so, for the International Olympic Committee to offer that for a younger group of people is so cool. For those who maybe have dreams of going to the Olympic Games one day, but never make it, they've then still had that Youth Olympic experience. And you also get to meet a whole lot of other athletes from all over the world and become part of a bigger team representing your country. That’s really cool. I look back at it and I remember it all really clearly. I really, really enjoyed it.”
Were there things you learned in Singapore that have helped you in your career since then?
“Yes, probably the biggest thing is that when you train at a certain level and then you go to play on a bigger stage – whether it’s the Youth Olympic Games or the Olympic Games – it’s totally different and the pressure that you feel can’t be replicated. So thinking back to Singapore and remembering the pressure that I felt, those are the same feelings that you have at any point and you were still able to perform well. At any stage in your career, you’re always feeling that pressure to perform. And so to be able to go and be exposed to that at a younger age – and not just be thrust into it when you make a national team – is a really valuable experience.”
Six years after Singapore, you were part of the team at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. How did that compare?
“A lot of it was such a blur. It's such a weird realisation actually being in the Village and gearing up for your first game or training and thinking, ‘Here I am; I'm at the Olympic Games.’ I remember we were sitting in the dining area one day and everyone was running over to the tennis court because [Novak] Djokovic was having a hit. All of a sudden you're like, ‘Wow, I'm at this event and so is Djokovic. I can't believe I'm playing at the same thing that he is.’ It's a weird realisation that you’re actually there.”
How disappointing was it to miss out on the medals?
“To come fourth was pretty disheartening, considering we played some of the best hockey we ever had, especially in the quarter-final versus Australia, and then weren’t able to finish it off. But I was saying to my mum the other day that, while you'd never be happy with fourth, you have to be proud of your effort regardless, especially for a small country on the other side of the world. We obviously play to win, but you have to be proud of your efforts regardless because a medal is so elusive and it's not something that everybody can win. It's amazing that you're at the Games, let alone winning a medal. But at the time, and still to this day, it's absolutely heart-wrenching that we didn't win a medal. But we learned a lot and that’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you try your best and it doesn't work out the way that you see it working out.”
Does finishing fourth make you even more determined to win a medal in Tokyo next year?
“Definitely. I think going to an event and achieving your goal of winning, winning gold and leaving saying you couldn't have done any better, is actually an extremely incredible feeling. We, as a team, had that when we won gold at the Commonwealth Games. And I think having come fourth in Rio, and having got so close, it is definitely an incentive. We all know that we have it in us and that we are so close. There are really only minute tweaks that we need to make, and the lines are so fine between coming first and coming eighth. So, that is a big incentive for us to really grab hold of the opportunity to go again because we all know it's possible. And if you don't think it's possible, you're absolutely wasting your time.”