London hockey venue set for testing

Richard Smith in action for England
Richard Smith in action for England
Matt Cox opened the scoring for Havant in their defeat at Cheltenham.  Picture: Keith Woodland

Havant fall to defeat at Cheltenham

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Richard Smith will get his first taste of the iconic London 2012 Olympic hockey venue next week as the Great Britain squad crank up their preparations for next year’s games.

The new Hockey Centre, in the heart of the capital’s Olympic Park, boasts a distinctive blue synthetic pitch and pink run-off areas that will provide a very colourful backdrop for the games.

It’s a break from the tradition of the normal green pitch and the GB squad will get to test the newly-laid surface next week.

While the rest of the venue is not yet completed, the squad will get to train on the pitch one day per week for the next few months in readiness for their medal quest, which starts next July.

And Smith, a former City of Portsmouth player who has 57 international caps to his name, is optimistic he will be a part of the 16-man squad.

Smith said: ‘You see all of the other venues being completed and it brings it all into focus that bit more.

‘We get to train on the pitch for the first time next week and it becomes that bit more real.

‘So we will be heading over there for one day per week to get used to the pitch and the environment.

‘I’ve only seen pictures of how it will look on TV so far.

‘The venue is not quite finished yet but the pitch is down and the stands and everything else will be built around it.

‘So we may be training on a pitch with a load of gravel around it but at least we’re on the pitch!

‘And it may actually help us to remember that it’s just a hockey pitch, rather than turning up at an Olympic venue with 10,000 seats and being overawed by it when it’s all finished.’

The 24-year-old, who is now with Loughborough, is part of a 28-man group based at Bisham Abbey that will be whittled down to 16 in time for next year’s tournament.

And the former Purbook Park student admits it is difficult to keep Olympic selection from his mind with the rest of the current squad training together regularly and after each other’s places.

He said: ‘It’s really up for grabs now. Things have been good, I’ve had a good two years and if I can keep that going, I should be there or thereabouts.

‘But everyone is working hard to get there and every player within the 28-man squad is very good, so we’re not sure where things are going to go.

‘You have to put that out of your mind as much as you can. We want to keep improving as much as we can as a team.

‘You do everything you can on a personal and collective front and hopefully that will take the squad to a good enough standard and hopefully I will be a part of it.’

Great Britain will be heading to New Zealand in December for the Champions Trophy and Smith is keen to be a part of the final major tournament before next year’s games.

He said: ‘We’ve got the Champions Trophy coming up in Auckland in December and that will be a good chance to see how we are progressing.

‘It will be an 18-man squad and will be a bit of a clue but we’ve also had some injuries and they may want to look at a few different players in the last major competition before the Olympics.’