Coetzee bows out

2014-06-14 00:00

A GOAL in the last Test match of a career that has spanned nearly 20 years was the perfect way for Investec South Africa women’s hockey team superstar and world record holder Pietie Coetzee to bow out of the game.

The 35-year-old South African hockey icon has ended with an astonishing 282 goals in 287 Test matches.

Probably the most amazing statistic in Coetzee’s glittering career is that her 282 goals in 287 Test matches was achieved despite retiring for five years at the age of 27 when at the peak of her powers.

Coetzee has always played the game for enjoyment and has said that she was burnt out to a degree from the goalscoring pressure and expectations.

She broke Russian Natella Krasnikova’s world record 220 goals with a first-half hat-trick that fittingly consisted of every method of scoring in hockey — a field goal, a penalty stroke and a penalty corner — against the USA at the Champions Challenge tournament in Dublin, Ireland in 2011.

The Johannesburg-based Coet­zee first retired in 2005 having scored 189 goals in 191 Test matches.

With SA head coach Giles Bonnet newly installed in the hot seat, sharpshooter Coetzee returned five years later at Hockey World Cup 2010 in Rosario, Argentina, and carried on where she left off, adding 93 more goals in just 96 Test matches.

The modest Coetzee was never one to be impressed by records, especially her goal tally, always emphasising that it was the team that counted.

SA beat Japan 2-0 yesterday to finish ninth at Hockey World Cup 2014 in the splendid Kyocera Stadium here, and while Coetzee said a thousand flashbacks were going through her mind during the national anthems she knew she had a job to do.

Playing in the unfamiliar position of right half in this tournament, as a late replacement for the desperately unlucky double Olympian Lenise Marais, Coet­zee has as a result had fewer goal­scoring chances, but two successful strikes from her six World Cup matches would not have been a bad return for most goalscorers.

Bloemfontein-born Coetzee tweeted her retirement announcement on the bus to the stadium, just an hour ahead of the match. Her team-mates had no idea that they would be a part of this milestone.

Coetzee is an iconic figure in women’s sport in SA, is the player that thousands of schoolgirl hockey players in the country would like to be and runs coaching clinics back home as a professional coach, a business she hopes to build on.

A product of Oranje Meisie­skool in Bloemfontein, Coetzee made her debut as a 16-year-old Grade 11 schoolgirl at a tournament in the United States in 1996, played in three Olympic Games — Sydney, Australia, in 2000; Athens, Greece, in 2004; and in London 2012, as well as two World Cups, at Delhi in India in 2010 and finally, The Hague in The Netherlands in 2014.

Surely the world will never again see a sportsperson come out of a five-year retirement with the same personal success as where she left off.

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