When the FIH Pro League gets underway in January, one of the venues that will prove a new hunting ground for many teams is the Wujin Hockey Stadium in Changzhou, China.
The stadium, with a dedicated hotel just 50 metres from the pitch, is the home to the China national team, with the men’s women’s and youth teams all housed in the area. The hockey centre itself comprises the main pitch, a training or warm-up pitch and a well-equipped gymnasium.
Changzhou itself is a three hour drive from Shanghai Airport but, for visitors wishing to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Shanghai and the wider Jiangsu Province, then the major city is just an hour by train.
China (FIH Hero World Ranking:10 ) start their FIH Pro League campaign with a visit to the Oceania giants Australia (WR:3) and New Zealand (WR:6). The first visitors to Changzhou will be Great Britain (WR:2), on 23 February, followed by Germany (WR:5) two weeks later.
“We are really pleased that other nations will come and visit China,” said captain Cui Qiuxia, “We are usually travelling to competition in other parts of the world, so it will be great for people to experience our country but also for the China hockey supporters to be able to come and watch us play.”
There was a common consensus among the players that took part in the recent women’s Wanglibao Hockey Champions Trophy Wujin, Changzhou that gaining that experience was essential in preparations for the FIH Pro League.
Eugenia Trinchinetti of Argentina said that experiencing the long flight from Argentina to China would help the players be better prepared next time they made the trip. She added that the support staff had also worked with the players to ensure that they had familiar food with them for the duration of the trip, packing a large container full of dietary requirements.
“We have been trialling the use of sleep-glasses,” revealed Eva de Goede of the Netherlands, “the lens changes colour to help us sleep on the plane.”
And Great Britain’s captain Hollie Pearne-Webb said that the Champions Trophy was the first time any of her squad had played in Asia, so it had been a crucial learning curve, helping the players recognise the effects of long-distance travel, different food and drink and a different climate.
“Our staff have been working closely with other sports, such as the Rugby League team,” said Australia’s Emily Smith, “They are really experienced at coping with the demands of travelling the globe with their sport, so they have shared that knowledge with us.”
China women enter the FIH Pro League on the back of a solid performance at the Hockey Champions Trophy. A fourth place finish came after they had beaten Argentina and drawn with Great Britain, Japan and Australia. They lost to the Netherlands in the final round robin game to decide who would contest the gold medal and then fell foul of a rampant Argentina team in the bronze medal match, where they lost 6-0.
In goalkeeper Ye Jiao (voted Best Goalkeeper at the Hockey Champions Trophy), China has a star performer and young forward He Jianxin also impressed with her speed and skill in attack. Holding it all together are the experienced leadership team of Cui Qiuxia, Peng Yang and Liang Meiyu.