Team South Africa profile: Pietie Coetzee
6 July 2012
South African field hockey star Pietie Coetzee, the all-time leading goal scorer in women's international hockey, will be attending her third Olympic Games in London.
It could have been her fourth Olympics, but Coetzee, who is now aged 33, took five years out from the international game to focus on her studies and missed out on Beijing in 2008.
To put into perspective how long she has been playing international hockey, it's worth noting that she made her debut for South Africa way back in 1995 at the age of only 16.
It's an incredible achievement that she is the all-time leading goal scorer in the game when one considers that she was inactive in what would have been the prime of her career.
It is also incredible that Coetzee was able to make a successful return to the international stage after such a long time out of the game. That's something that is seldom managed by athletes at the highest level of competition.
And yet Coetzee has not only managed to return to international competition, but to excel; she was named to the International Hockey Federation's All Star team of 2011.
Following the Investec London Cup, a pre-Olympic tournament in which South Africa faced Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands in June – all teams ranked within the top four in the world – Coetzee's goal scoring record stood at an incredible 241 goals in 245 internationals.
When she began her long sabbatical, Coetzee had scored 189 times in 191 matches. Since then, she has netted 52 goals in 54 games, which, despite the long break, is remarkably consistent with the goal scoring feats of the first part of her career.
When Coetzee became the world record holder she did it in style, netting four times in a 5-5 draw with the USA in Dublin in June 2011. That took her to 221 goals and bettered the 20-year-old record held by Russia's Natalya Krasnikova.
More than one weapon
What makes her such a goal scoring threat is that she has more than one weapon to her bow. She can be equally devastating at finishing off either her strong or weak stick sides, and she is also one of the finest exponents in the game of the drag flick at penalty corner time.
South African assistant coach Fabian Gregory, interviewed by Jonathan Cook in April 2012, said of Coetzee: "Pietie is the ultimate professional, exemplary in her work ethic, training, how she takes care of her body and in preparation for matches.
He added: "Pietie is meticulous in her analysis of the opposition and her tactical input is immense.
"Her experience has played a massive role in the development of the less experienced players.
"Pietie has added a new dimension to the striker line in that she has defined roles for the strikers, which has taken their individual performances to a new level."
Best prepared team
Thanks to an excellent sponsorship from Investec, the South African women's hockey team goes into the London Olympics as the best prepared hockey team in South African Olympic history. With over 2 000 combined caps, it is also the most experienced South African women's hockey team ever.
With world class talents like Pietie Coetzee and captain Marsha Marescia, it's also a team that could spring a surprise or two. And if the inspiration comes from Coetzee, that would not be a surprise, it would be par for the course.
"Making a comeback is hands down one of the better decisions I have made and I look forward to the London 2012 Olympics because I feel physically great," Coetzee told Jonathan Cook.
"I now have the chance to compete in the sport's pinnacle event with a tremendous amount of experience and maturity and I predict this will be a career highlight."
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