GREAT Britain’s women are Olympic champions for the first time after Maddie Hinch and Hollie Webb’s penalty shoot-out heroics ended the Netherlands’ dynasty in the Games.
Nicola White’s last-quarter strike levelled the match at 3-3 and the game went to penalties.
Helen Richardson-Walsh converted a penalty flick after Georgie Twigg was fouled and Webb kept her cool to net the decisive effort after Hinch had time and again denied the Dutch.
It meant Britain, London 2012 bronze medallists, were champions as the Dutchwomen’s bid for a third successive Olympic gold was thwarted - though only after an epic battle.
Lily Owsley, Crista Cullen and White scored in normal time, when Hinch continually kept Britain in the contest, while Kitty van Male scored twice and Maartje Paumen once for the reigning world champions.
Jubilant captain Kate Richardson-Walsh said her wife and team-mate Helen’s determination had helped inspire those around her.
“It’s very special,” she said. “To see Helen go through double back surgery and maybe never play hockey again, the strength and resilience she has shown, I think, has resonated through the squad.
“When she steps up and takes penalties like that, she’s so assured. I almost felt that the more the crowd booed the more she was going to score just to show them.
“That is what Helen has in bucket loads and that’s what she makes everyone else in the squad do as well.
“Two years ago we went through some really difficult times as a squad and we pulled together and we said we wanted to be the difference, create history and inspire the future - and we have done that tonight.”
When Britain’s men famously beat West Germany to gold in Seoul back in 1988 it was at 6.30am on a Sunday morning UK time, but this thrilling encounter played out on primetime BBC on a Friday evening. Asked what legacy had been created by Britain’s gold medal triumph, Richardson-Walsh replied: “For boys and girls, men and women to go out and do whatever it is they want to do. If you want to be a teacher, a caretaker, a hairdresser, a lawyer, a hockey player, whatever it is, set your sights high and go for them in your life. We’ve shown that if you do that and if you keep on doing it then it will come true.”
Richardson-Walsh, 36, reaffirmed her intention to retire after her Rio triumph.
“Yeah, 100 per cent. I’m going to retire - and whoever else is going to retire here - as an Olympic champion. I think that’s a good way to go out.”
Britain’s task was a tough one. None of the players in the current Dutch squad had ever lost a match at the Olympics.
Netherlands, winners in 2008 and 2012, last lost in the 2004 final to Germany and had one defeat in 12 prior meetings with Britain at major tournaments. That was in the 1989 Champions Trophy.
Bronze in 1992 and four years ago was the previous best performance by a British women’s team, but they wanted the nation to stop talking about the men’s win in 1988 in Seoul.
The Dutch squeezed through in a shoot-out against Germany, who won bronze ahead of New Zealand, and were determined to make a good start.
Britain were indebted to goalkeeper Hinch for saving Paumen’s penalty flick after Sam Quek’s rash challenge on Laurien Leurink.
Kate Richardson-Walsh blocked Naomi van As’ shot as Netherlands threatened once more before Sophie Bray conjured up a goal for Owsley with a juggling run and shot. The ball rebounded for Owsley to sweep in her fourth of the tournament.
Netherlands took the direct route to equalise as Lidewij Welten held off Kate Richardson-Walsh and fed Van Male, whose reverse-stick strike found the net.
Cullen was sin-binned for two minutes and Hinch made a double save following a penalty corner to keep Britain level.
Van As hit the bar with another reverse strike.
Two more Dutch penalty corners followed and Paumen stroked in from the second of them. It was her 195th goal on her 235th appearance.
But Cullen found a gaping hole on the Dutch left and swept the ball in.
Netherlands penned Britain deep in their own half in the third quarter, forcing a succession of penalty corners.
The Dutch breakthrough came when, instead of shooting, Paumen returned the ball to Van Male to tuck in from close range and restore the lead.
England were 2-0 down at the end of the third quarter in the European Championship final last year against the Dutch and responded to draw 2-2 and win on penalty flicks. So Britain knew they were not out of it with 15 minutes remaining.
Britain pressed forwards and White bundled in following a penalty corner to equalise.
And the destination of the gold medal was determined by a penalty shootout.
Helen Richardson-Walsh and Alex Danson were denied, but Hinch twice kept the Dutch at bay to keep Britain level.
Twigg was fouled by Dutch goalkeeper Joyce Sombroek, so the penalty was upgraded to a flick and Helen Richardson-Walsh scored.
Hinch saved again, this time from Leurink, but Laura Unsworth blazed her effort over.
Margot van Geffen beat Hinch, but hit the post, meaning if Hollie Webb scored Britain would be champions. And she duly delivered.
But goalkeeper Hinch was the hero of the hour, wih outstanding saves during the match and penalties, and she revealed Netherlands’ shootout win over Germany in the semi-final had given her valuable insight into what their approach might be.
She said: “It helped that the Dutch had a shootout in their semi-final, so that gave me a chance to see what they do, but I basically give myself a game plan for each player and I execute that and thankfully it worked. Thankfully the Dutch did what I thought they would do.”
While she will receive plenty of plaudits, Hinch was keen to highlight the efforts of everyone in the side.
She said: “That was a huge team effort. The Dutch are a fantastic side. We definitely back ourselves in the shootout. Goalkeeping has its highs and lows. You can be a villain, but you can also be a hero in the moment.”
Hinch was equally delighted at the exposure hockey claimed back in Britain, adding: “Three-all, what a great advert for hockey. That’s what we want to do, showcase our sport and I’m so pleased it was a good game.”