Legends of Hockey: Amy Tran-Swensen

18 August, 2008: Great Britain are being held, 0-0 by the USA. Their hopes of qualifying for the medal matches at the Olympics in Beijing are hanging by a thread. They need to defeat the Stars and Stripes to have any chance of qualifying ahead of Argentina in the pool.

In the last five minutes, GB throw the kitchen sink at the USA. A shot seems destined for the top corner but from nowhere, Amy Tran-Swensen the US goalkeeper pulls out an incredible save and GB’s hopes are dashed.

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I remember at the time watching the match highlights on the BBC, not knowing the score. The Great Britain fan in me was crushed at the end, but the hockey fan was captivated by the tiny USA goalkeeper and her incredible agility. Still in my early stages of my hockey obsession, my hopes for GB were destroyed, my interest in this goalkeeper piqued.

After that day I followed the career of the USA stopper a little more closely. I was still very much learning my hockey history, and so was unaware of Tran-Swensen’s undoubted and already-proven pedigree.

She made her international bow in 2001 in the Pan American games, keeping a clean sheet (of course) against Mexico in a 5-0 win. In 2006 she was named goalkeeper of the tournament at the Women’s World Cup, yet hockey coverage was still quite sparse back then, so it wasn’t till that bittersweet Beijing tournament that she really came onto my radar.

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USA prepare to defend a penalty corner against South Africa at the London 2012 Olympic hockey tournament, at the Riverbank Arena, Olympic Park, Stratford, East London, Ady Kerry/England Hockey

At the time, I’d only really seen European goalkeepers. They all seemed to be tall, athletic and imposing. Tran-Swensen was impressive because she did not look like them. Standing at no more than 5 foot 4 she was different. Despite her diminutive frame she seemed to have a presence about her that made her seem a lot bigger than she was, and her agility. Wow.

It is a testament to her ability that the US selectors saw in her the potential for greatness, despite the No25 not being a “traditional” goalkeeper. In many ways I feel like Tran-Swensen paved the way for the modern, smaller, fearless, powerful, agile goalkeepers like Maddie Hinch.

“We’ve been lucky to have such a talented goalkeeper in our team. Knowing Amy is behind us gives us that extra feeling of confidence,” said former USA captain Lauren Crandall.

“Our team celebrates when a field player reaches 100 caps because we consider that a milestone in an athlete’s career. A goalie’s journey is much tougher than a field player. Most goalies are on the team for a few years before they even reach ten games. For Amy to have over 160 caps for her country and achieve honours such as best goalkeeper in the world is an outstanding career and one that we will hold in the highest regard as her teammates and friends.”

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Ady Kerry/England Hockey

She was known as one of the best keepers in the world, including making the 2006 and 2007 FIH World All Star Teams. However Tran-Swensen’s career was anything but routine. She had a knee replacement in 2011 after picking up an injury. She could have opted for a ligament surgery that many athletes before and after her had gone for, but instead she had an artificial knee put in and began the long road back to fitness, hoping to play at the 2012 Olympics in London.

I wondered if she was going to make the cut and if I was going to get to see her play in London. Luckily she did, and I did. I was delighted. Even though the USA had what Tran-Swensen described as “a disappointing Olympics” finishing “well below their potential” the fan in me was thrilled to finally see live a player I had read about and watched on the internet so many times. Even though her side struggled I knew that watching a player I had been so impressed by was worth the hours on the ticketing websites and the hammering my credit card took in that fantastic summer of 2012.

In 2013, the USA stopper announced her retirement from hockey as she sought to spend more time with her family. Reflecting on her career she said, “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of luck and some good timing.”

As she hung up her pads, in my mind, one last time I replayed that save against Great Britain in Beijing. It still fills me with a mixture of awe and disappointment.

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