Aymar, Argentina's great hope for field hockey gold
LONDON (Reuters) - Luciana Aymar has already been awarded Argentina's highest honor for the London Olympics when she was named to carry her country's flag at the Opening Ceremony.
The midfielder has also been ordained in her soccer-mad homeland as the hockey equivalent of Diego Maradona but there is another prize that is driving Aymar more than anything else, the prospect of winning an elusive Olympic gold medal.
Aymar has achieved almost everything in hockey but never won an Olympic gold and time is running out for the 34-year-old, who plans to retire after the London Games.
"I want to win the gold medal, it's the only one I'm missing," said Aymar, who will celebrate her 35th birthday on the same day as the women's final.
"The team is very ambitious, we're going to fight to try and get the gold. We're working towards that although we know it won't be easy."
Individually, Aymar has already reached the summit of hockey success. She is the only woman to have won the world player of the year award seven times, earning her the nickname La Maga (the Magician).
Like Maradona, she roams the central midfield looking for any openings for herself and her teammates and the Argentine national team, Las Leonas (lionesses), have benefitted enormously.
During her international career, Argentina have won two World Cups, five Champions Trophies and medals at each of the past three Olympics.
Aymar won a silver at the 2000 Sydney Games then bronze in Athens and Beijing. Now she just wants the gold to complete the set.
"I know it's difficult because there are lots of very good teams, hockey has leveled out a lot and there are several candidates," she said.
"But the possibility is there, Argentina have the chance to fight for the gold medal, I'm convinced of that."
Aymar has left no stone unturned in her bid to finish her dazzling career on the ultimate high, training harder than ever, but she also knows her state of mind will be just as important as her physical attributes.
"There is the anxiety of knowing it will be my last tournament," she said.
"But today all I think and do is centered around that gold medal I'm lacking: from when I get up at 7 a.m. to go and train, even during the rest breaks and how I eat.
"There's also the mental part. I've been working with a psychologist for some time on the issue of anxiety and what retirement means."
Regardless of whether she wins gold or not, Argentines are already in no doubt that she is the world's best player and the honor of carrying the flag is a worthy tribute.
"I'm happy for Luciana as a sportswoman, but more as a person," said Argentina coach Carlos Retegui.
"This is a boost for the last six weeks' training. And it's an unconditional support from all Argentine sport for the team."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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