Olympics: Michelsen eyes redemption in Aussie opener

By David Leggat

Final defeat in Delhi still haunts Stacey Michelsen. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Final defeat in Delhi still haunts Stacey Michelsen. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The abiding memory is of tears. When New Zealand came up short of gold in their Commonwealth Games hockey final against Australia in Delhi two years ago, there was a minor flood of them.

They'd drawn 2-2 with Australia but lost the penalty stroke shootout 4-2. Silver was a fine result, taking into account rankings, but it hurt as the players realised they'd squandered a glorious opportunity for a magic moment for themselves and their sport.

Stacey Michelsen was among the most composed in the immediate aftermath. It was impressive from the then 19-year-old midfielder. Two years on, she has made it clear the pain may have dimmed but it still remains.

"I was talking with [team-mate] Gemma Flynn a few days ago about it and we both still think about it quite often and still feel the hurt of that loss," Michelsen said. "We've moved on and learnt from it but it's definitely one we're not over."

Arriving home and being repeatedly told silver was not to be sniffed at didn't exactly help either.

"A lot of people said that to us when we returned and it frustrated us even more."

Now it's Australia again tonight, a good way to start the Olympic campaign and New Zealand will go in confident. Since Delhi, the teams ranked No6 (New Zealand) and 7 (Australia) have met eight times for three wins each and two draws.

The programme is such that victory tonight will set whichever team wins off to a strong start; lose and it's not terminal but it certainly won't help.

Michelsen shapes as a key figure for the Black Sticks. She made her 100th appearance in the Four Nations tournament in Bremen this month and was certainly one of those coach Mark Hager had in mind when he referred to speed as one of New Zealand's best attributes.

Northlander Michelsen appears as a composed, bright sort. She's doing law and commerce degrees at Auckland University and given the number of internationals hockey teams play, is well on track to racking up a hefty chunk of appearances for her country.

She's also smart enough to realise that no matter the size of a player's contribution to the cause and weight of games to draw wisdom from, it doesn't pay to feel you are part of the furniture.

"I still think it's about proving your place by your performance. I have learnt a lot over those 100 games but you still have to perform and feel you are deserving of the position."

New Zealand play the Aussies at 8.30am local time. The squad have adjusted their routines and sleep habits to make sure their bodies and minds are fully switched on from the start. Special glasses with amber lenses have been used as part of the strategy to get to bed earlier than normal. Computers are switched off at an appropriate time, so too cellphones and alarm clocks in a bid to eliminate anything which could distract or stimulate the mind when sleep is required.

It smacks of a savvy professionalism and while Michelsen admits she's not among the naturally early risers, there's a strong belief the strategies will do their part.

"A lot of the girls prefer to play in the morning as opposed to waiting through the day to get going. I think it will be good for us and we're better for having done our simulation period."

Michelsen, whose cutting runs in from the flanks will be an important part of New Zealand's attacking strategy, knows she wasn't at her best during the Four Nations.

"There's definitely a few things to tighten up on the ball. I didn't have a good performance there and we have to learn from our mistakes at the Four Nations," she said.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 31 Oct 2014 07:40:40 Processing Time: 434ms