Austin wins hockey award
Johannesburg - It says much about a man who reached the lofty heights of inclusion in the 2009 World All Stars team when winning the South African Hockey Player of the Year award gives him as big a thrill.
Especially since he has already been the recipient of the national award before, post the Beijing Olympic Games two years ago.
Just 25, national captain Austin Smith of the Pinelands club and Western Province has been at the helm of the South African team for two years and sees the squad's progress as his primary concern these days, but to be recognised for his individual contribution as a player is something the Capetonian treasures.
"To be named the best player in South Africa is something special," he said.
"Since I was named captain I have focused slightly more on the team’s progress and how we can perform better as a group, so to receive this award amidst that I am very pleased."
While he is a dynamic midfielder, Smith says that the evolution of the game makes for a multi-skilled hockey player.
"I fully believe with the way the game has progressed that players should be able to fit in anywhere on the field. I think in the future you will start seeing fewer players who only play in certain positions."
Having debuted for his country age 18, the highlight of Smith's 74 Test matches is very clear in his mind – and it happened twice this year.
"Beating Pakistan for the first time in South Africa's history at the World Cup in Delhi, India in March, and then again at last month's Commonwealth Games in the same city are two moments I will never forget."
Smith has spent much of his career playing in Europe's top leagues and is contracted to Dutch club Den Bosch.
"This is my second season at Den Bosch and we have had a tough start. Having only retained six players from last season has made competing with the top teams difficult, but the connections are slowly starting to appear and we are hoping to finish mid-table."
The SA skipper's goals for 2011 include performing consistently for club and province, winning the African Championships for South Africa to earn automatic qualification for the 2012 London Olympics, and to win the Champions Challenge in December next year, which he says is more than likely going to be held in Johannesburg.
"And I am still dreaming of a nomination, or even winning, the FIH World Player of the Year award someday!"