Richard Smith concedes England and his own personal performance reached a plateau last year but is adamant that won’t be the case in 2011 as they set about defending their European crown.
The 23-year-old Portsmouth-born ace enjoyed a golden start to his career, playing international hockey with England and Great Britain two years ago – the pinnacle of it lifting the European Championship title with the former.
Smith was presented with three opportunities to build on that last year but medalled only once – claiming Champions Trophy bronze while finishing fourth at both the World Cup and Commonwealth Games.
On a brighter note, the former City of Portsmouth player won his 50th cap for England and faces a less hectic schedule this year with the European Championships in August and Champions Trophy in India in December.
And having been impressed by how quickly he reached his half century for England but grounded by 2010, Smith is determined to get back on an upward trajectory this year.
‘It is exciting to be on 50 caps and it has come around fairly quickly,’ he said.
‘As a squad we have really improved but we just need that bit of a jump to get that gold medal.
‘I had a bit of an injury last year and plateaued and as a squad we plateaued to a certain extent.
‘We reached the top four in the world and finished top four in the world.
‘So it was a steady year but we are going to work hard to push on.
‘This year is a huge year. We are putting all the work in at the moment and it is starting to pay dividends.
‘The European Championships is the big one for us and I am looking forward to that because we approach it in a different element being defending champions.
‘We expect to reach the semi-finals and still if we get to that point we will have to see what happens from then on.’
In line with Great Britain’s preparations for the London 2012 Olympics, Smith was part of an England squad who competed at the Indoor World Cup in Poland in February for the first time.
They failed to reach the semi-finals, finishing sixth, but Smith insists the experience was more than worthwhile with less than 500 days to go until the 2012 Games.
‘I really enjoy the indoor game and we had a great opportunity to go to the World Cup and I enjoyed everything that came with it,’ he added.
‘We were playing to improve our sharpness and skills. You need quick reactions and skills and awareness and it was a good test.
‘It is a really big year and we will be doing everything to help ourselves going into 2012.
‘We need to practise well and we have some great opportunities this summer.’
n Join fellow Europeans at the London 2012 ‘one year to go’ celebrations at St Pancras International courtesy of Eurostar.
View competition details ateurostar.com/london2012. Eurostar is the official international rail services provider to the Games, and also the British, French and Belgian Olympic teams.