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By Milly McEvoy, Sportsbeat
Grace Balsdon’s ears are still ringing from the last time hockey was played in front of a home crowd at a major Games.
The 29-year-old from Canterbury was in the stands to see Team GB’s women claim bronze at London 2012.
Now she will get her own golden chance having been selected as part of Team England for a second time.
Since 2012, Balsdon has earned an Olympic bronze of her own to add to the Commonwealth Games bronze won last time out on the Gold Coast.
“I was sat in the stadium when the girls won their bronze medal,” Balsdon said.
“I just remember that it was a bit of a bowl and the noise created in that stadium was just absolutely phenomenal.
“It hurt your eardrums, it was so loud and the support from everyone in that stadium was just unbelievable, so to have that potentially this summer will be amazing and such an advantage for us playing at home.”
And while Balsdon has first-hand experience of that cauldron of noise in London, she is still keen to learn from teammate Laura Unsworth, the only remaining player from that 2012 side.
She added: “Her biggest thing is always just to try and take it all in and enjoy it.
“You might have some nerves and things like that, but these opportunities don't come around very often to play in front of our home crowd in a big multi-sport event.
“So just to enjoy it and know your role and know that you can deliver that but try to enjoy it as much as you can. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities so you have to really make the most of it.”
Balsdon is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
She has brought up a century of appearances for England and Great Britain and is now a senior member of the squad, giving clarity on her role within the team.
She said: “Some of my fondest memories are from playing in my first senior tournament, which was the Commonwealth Games in 2018. I'm really looking forward to this being up in Birmingham in our home country, something that will just exceed all expectations.
“And to have that crowd I remember from 2018 now being a home crowd will just be absolutely phenomenal and I am so excited for it.
“I think I'm a lot clearer around my role and a lot more confident in my role. I know what I can bring and deliver each game and I hope that this summer I'll continue to do that.
“One of my favourite parts of the game is the penalty corners and that's where I thrive in those moments and I just hope that we can deliver those again this summer.”
England have enjoyed mixed fortunes in their FIH Pro League fixtures so far this year with four wins, three draws and seven losses.
New faces have gained experience and exposure on the global stage, including at the upcoming World Cup in July.
Four players will follow Balsdon in making their major tournament debut at the Commonwealth Games, and the defender is hoping for a more settled build-up to the Games.
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, Balsdon is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.
“Consistency is the key for us and we're trying to find that but our squads have been different from each game, weekend to weekend, so consistency with the players in the squad will help,” she said.
“Us building now with our team between now and when our World Cup starts will be the biggest thing for us and settling in and really knowing and playing with each other in that set group. I think that will set us up really well.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes. .