Ward selected for Olympics just two years after career threatening eye injury

Credit Simon Parker

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Marlow’s Sam Ward is set to play for Great Britain in this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, less than two years after suffering an eye-injury he thought would end his career.

Ward was struck in the eye by a ball travelling at more than 50mph while playing for his country in an Olympic qualifier against Malaysia in 2019. The blow fractured his eye socket in several places and left him with severe retina damage. Doctors told him the loss of sight in the eye would be permanent and, at the time, he thought his international playing career was over.

However, less than two years on he’s back in the England and Great Britain set up, having top scored for his country in the recent EuroHockey Championship in the Netherlands.

He played for Great Britain in the Rio Olympics in 2016, and he also feels he has something to prove after Team GB failed to get out of the group stages.

Speaking to the BBC last week Ward said: “I'm lost for words, just incredibly proud and the biggest thing for me now is to thank everyone for everything they've done for me in this.

“You never know what's around the corner - you could be finished in a matter of seconds,

"It's a case of go out and be the best version of yourself and do the best you can. That's the main thing.

"The last teary phone call to my parents, I told them I lost an eye. This time, I told them I was selected for an Olympics."

Ward is not the only player with strong connections to the area in the Great Britain squads for Tokyo. David Ames, from Maidenhead, is one of a handful of players to be selected for his second Olympic Games, while the women’s team includes Shona McCallin, a Maidenhead Hockey Club coach like Ames, Ellie Rayer, who attended Claires Court School and goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, a Maidonian who helped the women’s team win their first ever Olympic gold medal at Rio in 2016.

Women’s Head Coach Mark Hager said: “For many of our Great Britain squad this has been a five-year journey in the making. Narrowing our squad down from 26 has been extremely difficult and highlighted the depth and talent we have. I have been humbled by how our entire Great Britain squad has supported each other through the selection process. There is a lot of potential in this team, and I am very excited to see what this group of not only talented athletes, but exceptional people can bring in Tokyo. We have a good balance of experience within the group to draw upon as we continue to challenge each other, and I am looking forward to seeing this group of athletes perform on the world stage."

Men’s Head Coach Danny Kerry commented: “This squad to represent Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympic Games has skill, grit, pace and intelligence in balance. Those selected will represent the wider squad and their team-mates concomitant with the energy with which they have all prepared. All of the squad are proud of how they have gone about their preparations amidst the pandemic. We understand the scale of the challenges ahead in Tokyo and will remain focussed on a ‘game at a time’ approach. The men have invested in themselves to grow the many qualities needed to navigate Olympic tournament hockey. We now look forward to using these qualities in the Games.”

Commenting on selection, Team GB Chef de Mission for the Tokyo Olympic Games, Mark England, commented: “It is a huge honour to be able to announce the selection of the men’s and women’s hockey teams for the Tokyo Olympic Games and I’d like to congratulate everyone on this outstanding achievement. To be able to welcome back seven reigning Olympic champions alongside an exciting mix of experienced Olympians and debutants gives me great pride. At Rio 2016, hockey united a nation and created memories that will last a lifetime for both fans and players alike. These are two very talented squads and there is no doubt that they have what it takes to go out to Tokyo and make Great Britain proud this summer.”