BERLIN (Reuters) - Natascha Keller, born into Germany’s best-known hockey family, has been likened to good wine as she prepares for her fifth Olympics, where it was announced on Wednesday she will be bearing Germany’s flag.
The striker played her first international aged 17 and now, almost 18 years and more than 400 caps later, Keller heads to London in search of a second Olympic gold in what she has said will be her last Games.
“I‘m proud to have her on my team,” Germany’s women’s team coach Michael Behrmann told Reuters. “She’s like a good wine. She gets better with age.”
Behrmann has previously even gone as far as to say the team can only be successful with Keller in it.
The playoffs for the German club championship last month made clear what he meant.
Keller suffered an injury in the first half of Berliner Hockey Club’s semi-final after scoring a goal that was subsequently disallowed.
The 35-year-old was off the pitch for much of the game, being treated for her injury, but on her return was straight back into the action. With her team losing 3-0, Keller scored twice to almost change her team’s fate.
While some of her younger team mates were in tears well after the end of the match, Keller quickly regained her composure.
“Shame, maybe it was my last German championship,” she told the pack of reporters.
Given her family, Keller was simply following a well-trodden path when she chose hockey.
Her grandfather Erwin won hockey silver at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Her father Carsten was part of Germany’s gold-medal winning team at the 1972 Munich Games, and brothers Andreas and Florian, took gold in 1992 and 2008 respectively.
The sports consultant - hockey is largely an amateur sport - already has a gold from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, in an impressive list of honors which includes European championships, the Champions Trophy and being named International Hockey Federation world player of the year in 1999.
She is among only a handful of international players whose name has a ring beyond hockey, a marginal sport in much of Europe, and on Wednesday became the fifth German woman to carry the flag at a Summer Olympics, and the first hockey player.
“It’s the crowning moment of an already extremely successful career and a homage to the entire Keller family with its unique Olympic history,” said Stephan Abel, the head of Germany’s hockey association. “It’s great for our sport to be presented at the Olympics that way and maybe it will give our sport another push.”
Keller is keen to break a recent series of fourth places for Germany after the team, ranked third in the world, missed out on medals at the Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup as well as the last two editions of the biennial Champions Trophy tournaments.
“I hope the curse of coming fourth will be over now. We also had a run of losing against Britain and we’ve broken that, so I hope we can finish that run, too,” Keller told Reuters TV.
“It would be a crowning achievement to end my career with a gold medal. That would make me more than happy,” she said. “But I would also be content finishing off with any medal.”
Editing by Alison Wildey