FIH Hockey Stars 2016 Female Player of the Year Naomi van As has played her last hockey match – a club game for her Dutch team Laren – and her retirement from the game she has graced for nearly two decades will leave a huge gap on both the national and global hockey scene.
Last weekend was a seminal moment in Dutch hockey as one of the best known faces in the game took to the pitch for a final time. Naomi van As, double Olympic gold medallist and double World Cup champion, is a hero to thousands of Dutch hockey fans and they turned out in their droves to watch her last hockey match.
The 33-year old was playing for her club side Laren and after the match, in an interview with Omroep West, she said: “I really feel like I'm closing my career. But I can not turn it back.
“At the end of the game, I realised this will be my last sprint ever on the hockey field in this setting. And when we were in the dressing room as a team, I suddenly thought of myself, ‘I will never see this again’. So I was so sad.”
Van As says there are three stand-out moments in her career: the wonderful gold medal the Netherlands won at the London 2012 Olympics, the team's barn-storming win in front of a home crowd at the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The Hague and her last Olympics at Rio 2016.
Her international career began in 2003, in a game against South Africa and three years later she was part of the Netherlands team that won the 2006 World Cup as well as the 2007 Hockey Champions Trophy. She scored one of the goals in Netherlands 2-0 win over China in the Beijing Olympics and went on to represent her country more than 160 times, scoring 35 international goals.
While Van As is a self-confessed ‘joker’ among her Orange teammates – there is a very serious side once the game is underway. Her drive, discipline, energy and desire to win is legendary. And her skill as an attacking midfielder is sometimes bordering on outrageous. She was voted last year’s Player of the Year in the FIH Hockey Stars awards, a fitting tribute to one of the game’s greats. She also won the award in 2009.
For the future, Van As will concentrate upon her television career. She is a presenter on the children’s programme Zappsport, but she hasn’t ruled out a return to hockey, although “never in a coaching capacity”, she says in mock horror.