Sarah Robertson was so challenged by the first Olympic cycle that she came to the verge of retirement from top-level field hockey.
For the first time, in 2014, the 27-year-old made Great Britain’s team, but her first few years in the program were so frustrating that she seriously considered hanging up her stick for good.
But the tale of Robertson is the perfect example of how fate in elite sports can turn upside-down. She is now an important part of the GB team despite wanting to give up the sport she cherished only a few years ago and has her eyes set on her Olympic debut next summer in Tokyo.
It was a far cry from the lavish life many professional athletes picture when Robertson, who hails from the Borders, was invited to join the GB team. She moved to London, but with some fellow field hockey players, she had to get by on just around £ 800 a month in a rented shared apartment.
She acknowledged that she had struggled to establish the conditions under which she thrived in her homeland after leaving her life in Scotland behind, and then came the bitter blow of missing out on selection for the Olympics in Rio.
Robertson admits she endured a true roller coaster of emotions when the UK team won Olympic gold in 2016, concluding at the end that her life as an elite field hockey player could be over just as soon as it started.
She returned to Scotland to finish her law degree at the University of Edinburgh and rediscovered her love of field hockey during that time.
And having rediscovered the mentality that had once brought her to the top of her sport, when the call came to return to the GB side in 2017, she jumped at the opportunity.
I started to build myself back up when I was back in Scotland for a year after Rio. I played again for Edinburgh Uni and then Scotland, and I did very well in both environments,’ she says.
“Then, after I graduated, the opportunity to play for GB again came up, and at that point I felt better than ever and started to believe in myself again.”
Robertson has flourished ever since her return to the GB team. In November, the attacking midfielder in the FIH Hockey Pro League played her 50th match in a 2-1 victory over Belgium.
Although no player can be counted on being chosen for Tokyo – the existing 31-player squad only makes 16 players – Robertson has proven to be extremely persuasive.
And while the first Olympic cycle almost broke her, she now acknowledges that the struggles she faced made her a far stronger person, with the advantage of hindsight.
“I’m so glad I went through all that I did before Rio – it was tough and character-building, but I learned so much during that time and it’s made me much better equipped for this cycle,” she says.
The time away from GB made a huge difference, and I made a deliberate decision to be here right now.
I had to think about whether I would like to go to the Olympics and whether I felt I was good enough to be able to get there. Since you don’t feel like you have to be there, making the deliberate choice to be there shifts your attitude.
The summer of Robertson was disrupted by the pandemic in the same way as everyone else was. The Olympics postponement was a bitter disappointment and her initial response was absolute despair, but she realized after some contemplation that the young British team would be strengthened by an additional year of training.
In recent months, playing competitive field hockey again has helped Robertson return to a certain normalcy, but it also serves as a reminder that the Olympics are approaching rapidly.
She may be forgiven for concentrating obsessively on making it this time around, after having already witnessed losing out on Olympic selection at the last moment.
But while she acknowledges that it is not always easy to put her mind away from her thoughts of a place in the squad, the GB coaching team tries to drill into the players that the ultimate objective is to do well in Tokyo, not just get a seat on the plane.
It’s really hard, but you just have to behave the way you go,”It’s really difficult, but you just have to act like you’re going,”
Our coaches always say they don’t want players to only think about being selected because then we will not perform to our full potential, whereas if we’re all thinking about going to the Olympics and probably going to the Olympics,