Hockey: Olympic Dream; Welsh Goalkeeper Bidding for Athens Glory THE FRIDAY INTERVIEW Anglesey's Michelle Thomas Tells Mark Currie about Her Bid to Win a Place in Britain's Olympic Hockey Squad
Byline: Mark Currie
THE Olympic clock is ticking for Welsh hockey star Michelle Thomas, who has been in Athens this week knowing her hopes of cementing her place in the Great Britain squad could depend upon her performances in three crucial build-up games.
This week's friendly Four Nations tournament, being staged in the city chosen to host this summer's sporting showpiece, probably represents a last chance for the 31-year-old Anglesey leisure centre assistant to confirm her status as one of the country's top goalkeepers.
Although she has played the game since she was a pupil at Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones, it's little more than three years since she first gained British recognition, so she is understandably eager to make the most of the opportunity.
The British team is facing Australia, South Africa and Spain in a round-robin tournament in Greece. This is the last competition before the squad numbers are whittled down for a qualifying tournament being staged in New Zealand in March to decide the Olympic finalists.
But Thomas faces a huge task to press her claims ahead of her Hightown clubmate, the experienced Carolyn Reid,and Canterbury's Hilary Rose.
Great Britain team leader Tricia Heberle is fully aware of the work Thomas must put in.
``Michelle has been doing very well and recently she has been showing some good form,'' said the Australian-born coach.``But she is one of four goalkeepers in the 25-strong squad. We are only taking two to Athens this week. Michelle is one of them, so she has a chance of making the final squad.
``But she is coming from a long way back and does not have the experience that some of the other girls have, so it is very much up to her to prove in the next few week what she is capable of.''
Although loathe to admit it,Thomas' prospects of reaching the top were probably not helped by the lack of funding available to athletes in Wales as she played for many years at Bangor,introduced to the club by her PE teacher at school,Isabel Holden.
``When I was working at the leisure centre (Plas Arthur) I couldn't afford to play hockey full-time,'' saidThomas.
``And even now, though I'm grateful for the financial support provided through the Welsh Hockey Union and the Elite Cymru scheme,it's still a bit of a struggle.''
One of only two Welsh players in the British squad -Swansea's Sarah Thomas is the other -the goalkeeper added: ``The employment reimbursement scheme which finances my full-time hockey is fine as far as it goes,because otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it.
``But I have to spend quite a lot on travelling to training at places like Loughborough University and Bisham Abbey, and you can't help noticing the support available to the English and Scottish players in the squad is much greater. …