World record goal-scorer (234 in 239 Test matches) and still scoring at virtually a goal a game despite taking a five-year sabbatical from international hockey when at the peak of her powers in 2005, Pietie Coetzee is a legend.
The purpose in hockey is to score goals and while there are others who might lay claim to being the best player the world has ever seen, no one in the history of the women’s game has been able to score as regularly as the 2011 World All Stars representative.
If the 33-year-old Lionel Messi of women’s hockey hadn’t taken that five-year break at age 27 her record would be out of sight. With 189 goals in 191 Tests, Coetzee returned; and it’s 45 goals in 48 matches since – business as usual.
Was there a feeling of unfinished business? “I continued to stay close to the national team,” says the striker and penalty corner ace.
“Just before my return I had a strong feeling that I wanted to get back. It was a no-brainer when (SA head coach) Giles (Bonnet) asked me.”
Her laid-back veneer is deceptive, as revealed by Fabian Gregory, assistant coach of the Olympic Games-bound Investec South Africa women’s hockey team: “Pietie is the ultimate professional, exemplary in her work ethic, training, how she takes care of her body and in preparation for matches.”
Said Gregory: “Pietie is meticulous in her analysis of the opposition and her tactical input is immense. Her experience has played a massive role in the development of the less experienced players. Pietie has added a new dimension to the striker line in that she has defined roles for the strikers, which has taken their individual performances to a new level.”
A supreme natural athlete, Coetzee had great aspirations in swimming and went to the senior nationals age 15. “When I was just older than 15 I started taking hockey more seriously and things accelerated.”
Picked for South Africa at age 16 while at Oranjé Meisieskool in Bloemfontein, motivation has always been personal. “It comes 100 per cent from within. Motivation for me is inside. It is much stronger for me than inspiration.”
In earlier years, did she ever think about moving to one of the hockey giants, like Holland? “Without a doubt, to put me in a position to make my living from hockey, as in other countries one can earn good money. I also thought at times it would be nice to just play and not have to always fight battles that have nothing to do with the sport. But in the end I am so happy I stayed in SA and that life took me where I am today.
“The Investec SA team is one special bunch of women. The environment is one you’ll never see anywhere else. That fact is reiterated when you play in other teams all over the world. We just understand each other and we get what the bottom line is. I love the SA team.
“Making a comeback is hands down one of the better decisions I have made and I look forward to the London 2012 Olympics because I feel physically great. I now have the chance to compete in the sport’s pinnacle event with a tremendous amount of experience and maturity and I predict this will be a career highlight.”
World Cup 2012 in Holland and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil? “The secret is to continue being in good shape. I have no idea where I will be in terms of hockey after the Olympics. It is a possibility.”
HIGH SCHOOL: Oranjé Meisieskool, Bloemfontein
TERTIARY: University of Johannesburg, studying towards a Bachelor in Emergency Medicine
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Johannesburg
CURRENT EMPLOYMENT: Professional hockey player
DEBUT – 1996, Spain, Atlanta USA
OLYMPIC GAMES: Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, London 2012
WORLD CUPS: Utrecht, Holland 1998, Perth, Australia 2002, Rosario, Argentina 2010
COMMONWEALTH GAMES: Kuala Lumpur 1998, Manchester 2002, Delhi 2010 Champions Trophy: Amstelveen, Holland 2000
CHAMPIONS CHALLENGE: Johannesburg 2002; Virginia Beach, USA 2005; Dublin 2011, Africa Games: Harare 1995, Johannesburg 1999, Abuja, Nigeria 2003
PROVINCE: Southern Gauteng, gold medals (a fair number, including Pietermaritzburg 2005, Pretoria 2009, East London 2010)
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Wine, cooking, my dog Shuga
OTHER SPORTS: Triathlon, golf, running, mountain biking and hiking … anything active I guess
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? I motivate myself, it comes from within.