Barry Middleton is less than a year away from competing in his fourth Olympic Games. Captain of the England Hockey men’s team, he is England’s most capped hockey international at the age of 31. With Rio on the horizon, Middleton’s current focus is not on 2016, but firmly set on the EuroHockey Championships in London this weekend.
Middleton, who plays for Holcombe in the Premier Division, is adamant that despite having secured Rio 2016 qualification, England will not be easing off anytime soon.
“It’s a weight off the shoulders in general,” says Middleton. “But it hasn’t taken the pressure off for this competition. We want to win, so it’s still down to us to play good hockey and win something.
Both the men’s and the women’s Great Britain teams have qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games thanks to their performances at the World League earlier this summer and England will go into EuroHockey with high hopes.
“Europe is the strongest continent in hockey these days, you’ve got four of the top five teams in the world in this tournament,” he says.
“It’s really good for us to see where this group have come from compared to the Euros two years ago as it gives you a great marker on where we have progressed and where we are now.”
With Middleton’s vast experience in his international career so far, he will play a vital role in helping some of the squad travel to what may be their first Olympic Games away from home.
“The pressure at an Olympics is bigger than anything else you do, so it’s going to be tough,” he admits. “But one of the biggest things about the Olympics is trying to get people not to get too stressed and actually enjoy it. We need to use that excitement and energy and give it a good go – it is still a hockey tournament in the end.
“Our aim for Rio - as it is for everyone who thinks they can do something – is that we want to go and win it. It's what we're planning for and what we're doing everything for at this moment in time.”
Just like at London 2012, England Hockey will be able to call on home advantage against the best Europe has to offer as they compete on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as part of UK Sport’s National Lottery backed #EveryRoadtoRio series, and Middleton admits that Lee Valley is starting to feel like home.
“It has a great atmosphere and it really does make a big difference having people shouting for you rather than against you!
“We really enjoy being here and walking through the park brings back a lot of memories, it’s going to be good; we can’t wait to get going.”
Following England’s performances at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain’s World League semi-finals success, Middleton says it’s great to see both sides doing so well.
“It’s one of the great things about hockey in Britain is that we’ve got both teams doing well and it’s great for a tournament like this. The excitement will build as the week goes on for the people who come to watch.”
With hockey doing so well, Middleton doesn’t envy the task of Head Coach Bobby Crutchley in selecting the squad from an increasingly strong pool of talent.
“One of the good things we have is a strong squad and it must be tricky for Bobby to make selections. We have real competition for places, and this squad is settled – we do everything together and it does feel like it’s not chopping and changing a lot because everyone is pretty established.”
England Hockey men's and women's teams and Scottish Hockey's women's team will be competing at the Unibet EuroHockey Championships as part of UK Sport’s National Lottery backed #EveryRoadtoRio campaign. You can see them on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park between the 21 – 30 August. Tickets are still available for limited sessions. Find out more on the #EveryRoadtoRio website >