The Hague - A goal in the last Test match of a career that has spanned nearly 20 years was the perfect way for Investec South Africa women’s hockey team superstar and world record holder Pietie Coetzee to bow out of the game.
The 35-year-old South African hockey icon has ended with an astonishing 282 goals in 287 Test matches.
Probably the most amazing statistic in Coetzee’s glittering career is that her tremendous tally of goals was achieved despite her having retired from the game for five years at the age of 27 when she was at the peak of her powers.
Coetzee has always played the game for the enjoyment and has said that she was burnt out to a degree from the goalscoring pressure and expectations.
Coetzee broke Russian Natella Krasnikova’s world record of 220 goals with a first-half hat-trick that fittingly consisted of every method of scoring in hockey – a field goal, a penalty stroke and a penalty corner – against the United States at the Champions Challenge tournament in Dublin, Ireland, in 2011.
The Johannesburg-based Coetzee first retired in 2005 having scored 189 goals in 191 Test matches.
With SA head coach Giles Bonnet newly installed in the hotseat, sharp-shooter Coetzee returned five years later at Hockey World Cup 2010 in Rosario, Argentina, and carried on from where she left off, adding 93 more goals in just 96 Test matches.
The modest Coetzee was never one to be impressed by records, especially her own goal tally, and always emphasised that it was the team that counted.
South Africa beat Japan 2-0 yesterday to finish ninth at Hockey World Cup 2014 in the splendid Kyocera Stadium here, and while Coetzee said that a thousand flashbacks were going through her mind during the playing of the national anthems, she knew she had a job to do.
Playing in the unfamiliar position of right-half in this tournament – as a late replacement for the desperately unlucky double Olympian Lenise Marais – Coetzee has as a result had less goal-scoring oppor- tunities, but two successful strikes from her six World Cup matches would not have been a bad return for most goal-scorers.
Bloemfontein-born Coetzee tweeted her retirement announcement on the bus to the stadium, just an hour ahead of yesterday’s match.
Her team-mates had no idea that they would be a part of this milestone.
Coetzee is an iconic figure in women’s sport in South Africa, is the player thousands of school-girl hockey players in the country would like to be, and runs coaching clinics back home as a professional coach – a business she hopes to build on in the time to come.
A product of Oranje Meisiesskool in Bloemfontein, Coetzee made her debut as a 16-year-old Grade 11 school-girl at a tournament in the United States in 1996.
She played in three Olympic Games – Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and London in 2012 – as well as two World Cups, at Delhi in 2010 and finally, her swansong, at The Hague.
Surely the world will never again see a sportsperson come out of a five-year retirement with the same personal success as where she left off ...