Thursday, May 13, 2021

Euphoria, agony and anthem controversy: GB’s Dieke’s Olympic memories

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  • Ifeoma Dieke starred for Great Britain’s women in inaugural Olympic appearance

  • Scottish centre-half was one of just two non-English players in the squad

  • Dieke discusses the 2012 experience and which Scots might star in Tokyo

She was born in the US, earned a scholarship at Florida International University, played professionally in Chicago and Boston, and now coaches in Miami. But when the call came in 2004 to join up with the world’s most successful women’s national team, Ifeoma Dieke did the unthinkable. She turned down the USWNT.

Explaining the seemingly inexplicable begins with her first few words, uttered in a thick and unmistakable Scottish accent. Dieke goes on to make clear that, for all those American links – not to mention her Nigerian parentage – she feels “everything about her” is Scottish. That sense of belonging, to a country in which she grew up from the age of three, easily outweighed the status and success that would have doubtless have come with answering the USWNT’s call.

“I’ve no regrets about that. None at all,” Dieke told FIFA.com. “I can still remember that build-up to that US camp after being called up. Although I knew what a huge privilege it was – and all the opportunities it presented – I wasn’t at all excited. I kept asking myself why that was and eventually I realised it was because, although I was born in America, I just didn’t feel American.

“It just didn’t feel right; it didn’t tug at my heart-strings the way playing for Scotland always has. People thought I was mad at the time, and it took me a couple of days just to work up the courage to tell my coach that I wouldn’t be going. But I’ve honestly never regretted it for a second. It was a decision I made with my heart, for the right reasons, and I’m so proud of the international career I had.”

London calling

Having won over 120 caps, become the first black woman to captain Scotland and helped the team qualify for its first major tournament, that pride is fully justified. But despite those achievements, Dieke is perhaps best remembered for another international feat.

That came in 2012, when she was one of just two non-English players selected in the first-ever Great Britain women’s Olympic squad. And while the tournament ended prematurely and painfully, with a ruptured ACL in Team GB’s second match, ‘no regrets’ is once again her mantra.

“I remember feeling a bit sorry for myself at first because you know those injuries can end your career,” she said. “But when I was stuck in bed recovering, I was watching the Paralympics on TV, seeing people with no arms and legs competing, and it really inspired me and put things in perspective. In the end, I actually think that injury prolonged my career because I learned a new way to train and condition my body, and having always thought I’d retire at 32, I ended up playing on until 37.

“I still remember getting the call from Hope Powell telling me that I’d been selected. It was a real ‘wow’ moment for me because I absolutely loved watching the Olympics, although it was all about track and field for me. To think of myself becoming part of that just blew my mind. Even now, I struggle to think of myself as having been ‘an Olympian’ because, to me, the athletes I have in mind are just in a different stratosphere.

“The build-up to it . . .

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