In the lead up to the International Women’s Day 2024, a year that marks 100 years of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), we are speaking with women in hockey, who have made major contributions towards the growth of the sport over the past few decades. 

In today’s story, we feature Luciana Aymar, one of the best to ever pick up a hockey stick, winning 4 Olympic medals and 4 World Cup medals through her long career with Argentina, and is the only player in the history of the sport to win the FIH Player of the Year Award on eight (!) occasions.

The first time Luciana played hockey was when she was 8. It was her sister who already played the sport, who took her along for a practice session. Luciana, who was already playing individual sports like swimming, skating and tennis, decided to pursue hockey, because she could share it with her sister and she enjoyed playing with a team. 

Luciana’s role model in her early days was her sister Cintia. She started off trying to copy everything her sister did on the field. “She was a very fast and skilful player. We were able to share many years of playing together both in Argentina and Spain and also the national team of Rosario. At the age of 15 we changed clubs, where we had the opportunity to share the field with Julieta Castellan, a world junior champion, and an olympic hockey player, which allowed us to dream for ourselves. At the age of 14 I was lucky enough to be called up to the junior national team and at 15 I was already training with the senior national team, where I was able to share the field with great players whom I admired a lot in Karina Masotta, Carina Onetto, Magdalena Aciaga among others.”

With a career spanning multiple decades, Luciana got a close view of the various rule changes hockey adapted over the years. “I consider that hockey is one of the sports that has evolved the most to improve the dynamics of the game, and of course to make it a more attractive game. There were great changes which I was lucky enough to witness on the field and put them to the test. 1- change from natural grass to synthetic, more dynamic and more precise hockey 2 - removing the offside rule 3- rolling substitutions in the matches 4- use of video umpires 5- the self-pass rule 6- Introduction of the penalty shoot-out.”

Speaking of her support system through her career, Luciana says it’s impossible to list every person that contributed in a small or big way towards making her 20-year career possible every single day. She demanded a lot from herself as a player, but was lucky to work with coaches who allowed her to grow and shaped her into the best version of herself. She also mentions teammates on the national team and her clubs, who all contributed towards achieving their combined sporting goals. Most important though it was her family. “My family, when I started travelling for hockey, were always present so that I could continue playing. My parents and brothers were the ones who always ensured that I could arrive on time for the buses that I had to take from Rosario to Buenos Aires to be in the training sessions. They were my great economic and emotional support, who I relied on to be able to do what I was most passionate about in life and to be able to play for 20 years in the national team.”

When it comes to gender equality in sport, Luciana believes things are moving in the right direction, but there is much that can still be done. “There is a big difference in the salaries of women compared to men in sports worldwide.  Women have been improving for a long time and have been recognised for their efforts, but as I said before, there is still a long way to go. We have to take up more leadership roles in all areas. We have to raise our voices and make ourselves heard, to break through the prejudices of the past. Today we women are encouraged to do more, to not hold back and to look for our best version of ourselves. Today we are encouraged to express ourselves freely and to be leaders. In my particular case I always tried to position this sport and make it more visible, knowing that in my time there were more male athletes, but I wanted to have the same recognition.”

Asked about what advice she would give to the next generation of players, Luciana said, “My message always for the new generations is, never lose humility and respect because that is what makes you grow without having a ceiling. Pride and not empathising with your peers are limiting. We need to challenge ourselves to be better but with respect for others.”