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Ian Sloan puts setbacks in the past and goes for gold at Rio Olympics

By Graham Hamilton

IF world rankings are anything to go by, then Great Britain are in with a genuine chance of a medal at the Rio Olympics - and that's good news for four Ulstermen.

Iain Lewers, Mark Gleghorne, David Ames and Ian Sloan are all in GB's squad and hope to emulate fellow Ulstermen Stephen Martin and Jimmy Kirkwood, who won gold with GB in Seoul 1988.

It was clear that Lewers, Gleghorne and Ames were very much in coach Bobby Crutchley's plans but for Sloan it has been a worrying time as many obstacles fell into his path.

Between May 2012 and February 2014, he endured a series of injuries that left him sidelined for a total of 16 months.

And then when he seemed to have fully recovered, he caught chicken pox just hours before he was due to fly out to Australia for a training camp, and so missed out on a trip in which he had been hoping to showcase his worth to the coach and selectors.

Thankfully Crutchley hadn't lost faith in him, and he selected the Cookstown man for the prestigious Champions Trophy in London in June and he did enough to warrant inclusion for Rio - a real relief.

There was no doubting Sloan's pedigree - his dad Martin and his mum Adele were both Irish internationals.

A former winner of the Belfast Telegraph Local Heroes award and Ulster Player of the Year prize, his special talents were quickly spotted and he was soon to become the youngest player to represent Ireland at senior international level.

After moving to England and switching allegiance to GB, it seemed only a matter of time before he established himself in their squad but then came those injury setbacks.

"It has been a tough four years for me, so to come through everything and get selected is something of which I am proud," said Sloan.

"First it was a hamstring tear, then a stress fracture of a metatarsal in my left foot, followed by a re-fracture of the same bone.

"And I was no sooner playing again when I had another hamstring strain."

But finally putting his injury woes behind him, Sloan moved from Loughborough to Wimbledon and helped them land the English title last season.

Soon he was back in the GB training squad and all was going well until chicken pox robbed him of that trip to Australia two months ago.

It seemed as though his last chance of Rio selection was slipping away but then came the opportunity to impress at the Champions Trophy in June and what a relief it was when he learned his name was on the plane ticket for Brazil.

"I received word when I was with my parents and brother, so it was great to share the moment of elation with them," he said. "They have put a lot into my hockey and they know how much it means to me.

"The support I have received from the Cookstown club and Ulster hockey has been humbling and I am truly grateful.

"Team GB has done an excellent job with our accommodation in the Olympic Village and the hockey facilities are excellent and we are all looking forward to the action."

For Lewers, the former Annadale defender, it's his second appearance at an Olympics, having been part of the GB team that finished fourth in London four years ago.

He is a commanding figure at the heart of the defence, has the ability to spread the ball with pin-point accuracy, and is adept at using the aerial ball not only to ease pressure at one end of the pitch but to launch attacks at the other.

He was twice UK Player of the Year runner-up before finally landing the award outright in 2014.

Gleghorne, who began his career with Antrim and Instonians, was unlucky to miss out on London 2012 following injury but has since established himself and recently took his tally of combined GB and England caps to over 100.

His younger brother Paul will also be featuring at the Olympics - but with the Irish team, at the heart of their defence.

They are unlikely to cross paths on the pitch in Rio unless both GB and Ireland qualify for the knock-out stages.

The fourth Ulsterman donning GB colours is Cookstown's Ames, who switched allegiance at the same time as Sloan and plays with leading English club Beeston.

He was gutted when he played for Ireland in the 2012 Olympic qualifying final against Korea and lost at the death. But four years on and he's in Rio with his dream of medalling at an Olympics very much back within his reach.

Belfast Telegraph


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