Olympian Ashleigh Ball: I would relive every minute
THE pride – and the pain – of her Olympic campaign will remain with bronze-medal winner Ashleigh Ball for the rest of her life.
Ball, who is the latest nomination in the Gloucestershire Media Diamond Jubilee Sports Awards, was part of the GB women's hockey team that reached the semi-finals at the Olympic Park.
There was heartbreak when the GB team lost 2-1 to Argentina, but honour after beating New Zealand 3-1 to win bronze amid emotional scenes at the Riverbank Arena.
Midfielder Ball is now back home in Cheltenham, relaxing and seeing friends and family before her mind turns towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
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Ball, who scored in the 3-0 qualifying game against Belgium, said: "I'm feeling very proud of my medal and I'm absolutely delighted we came away with the bronze, which is something I will have for the rest of my life.
"That aside, we had trained for gold and we lost our semi-final and that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
"Being a sportswoman, winning is what drives us on. But what happened will provide motivation for the next four years."
Ball, from Charlton Kings, said the fear of finishing fourth drove the team on in their third-place play-off.
The former St Edward's School pupil said: "We were facing a bronze medal or nothing – fourth position is the worst possible place you can finish.
"Our only option was to win and we went out to win. It had been a very difficult few days, but when we lined up I knew we were going to win.
"One of the many memories I will take away is the National Anthem playing, it was just breathtaking.
"I don't think that experience will be matched again. There were 16,000 in the stadium, the roar was incredible.
"We hoped the atmosphere would be fantastic. But it was beyond that."
For years Ball's mind had been firmly set on summer 2012 – her life geared towards a gold-medal push.
And in the past few weeks she has soaked up the post-Olympic party atmosphere, with appearances on BBC1's The One Show and meeting movie stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But soon she will have to think about the future and the next Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016.
She said: "It has been a big change in my life since the Olympics.
"For years I have been waking up every day when every decision is made for us – over what we eat, what we do, what time we go to bed. All decisions made with a gold medal in mind.
"Now I am waking up with freedom and without the restriction of a structured training programme, so at the moment I am enjoying that.
"Soon it will be what do we want to achieve next? What do we want to do? And that will be to better our bronze medal in Rio."
At present Ball, a former member of Cheltenham and East Gloucestershire hockey clubs, is in light training as part of an injury-prevention programme, but full training will resume.
And there will be a lot of decisions to be made, she said.
There will be trials, younger hockey players wanting to get on the team and decisions made on players and coaches.
The European championships are next summer, but Ball said everything had been geared towards the Olympics and it will take a few months for people to decide about the future.
As for Rio, she said: "Yes, everyone will consider the next cycle. But it will take a couple of months for people to get back into training and thinking ahead."
Ball, who first represented England at under-16 level, has been nominated for Gloucestershire Professional Sports Personality of the Year.
She said: "It's absolutely fantastic to be considered, on a personal level, and for my sport as well.
"I think hockey should be the premier women's sport in the country and I think the legacy of the Olympics should be a higher profile for the game.
"It's a fast game, it's a team sport, it's got everything.
"As a women's sport, its really developing and it's been great to get positive feedback after the Olympics.
"And this nomination is another great platform for me and for the sport."
With her Games over, Ball is now able to enjoy the Paralympics.
She said: "I can enjoy it without the nerves or the pressure or the expectations.
"But if I had the chance I would relive every minute of my Olympics."