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Hege Riise: The shy but determined leader of Team GB

Riise (number nine, at the 1991 World Cup) would win the 1995 competition

Conference location: Sapporo dome Date: 21 July Time: 8:30 a.m. CEST
Cover: Watch Live on BBC One, BBC Sport website and iPlayer from 8:15 a.m.

Hege Riise had a goal in mind when she took out her gold medal in Sydney 2000 before meeting her Team GB squad in late May.

It shouldn’t show their own achievements, but rather inspire their protégés with the story of their own Olympic journey into the final 21 years ago.

It worked.

“Now my summer coach is going to be my coach and she’s seen great things,” said Sophie Ingle, Wales captain and one of three UK captains named by coach Riise.

A legend in the game, Riise, 52, is world champion, European champion and Olympic champion with 188 international matches and 58 goals for Norway. She has enjoyed national and international success as a trainer, but is known for a shy personality who hides an iron determination to succeed – something that those who know her best can attest to.

When Even Pellerud set up his Norwegian squad for a friendship invitation tournament in Canada in July 1990, 21-year-old Riise was one of them.

“She was a pure natural soccer talent,” says the former Norwegian coach. “One of those who make you think, ‘What can I teach her? Let her play!'”

He did so, giving the freshman three caps at Winnipeg and four more before the end of the year, one against England at Old Trafford.

Pellerud says that despite her low scores on the on-court physical tests, she shone and he would build a team around her qualities.

“She didn’t jump high, but she won more balls in the air, was slow but always first on the ball and was one of those rare team players,” he recalls.

“Everything has shown that smartness is the number one quality you are looking for in team sport.”

April Heinrichs faced Riise as an opponent, leading the USA team, which defeated Norway in the 1991 World Cup final, but lost the fight against a Riise-inspired Norway as their country’s coach in the 2000 Olympic final.

“Hege has influenced every game I’ve ever seen her in,” says Heinrichs. “She was small but huge in effect, a technical, tactical wizard with a small engine that never stopped.”

While Riise had all the tools to be a world class player, she was also extremely shy.

Norway’s captain Heidi Store remembers their first camp together that Riise was so quiet, “you hardly noticed her”.

“That totally changed when you gave her the soccer ball,” says Store. “Hege knows football, it is football, and having a player like that on your team is extremely valuable.”

Store would get to know Riise well over the years. As roommates on the way to the 1995 world championship title, they developed “the snake” – a silly but now iconic goal celebration in which the team went on their knees and held each other by the ankles.

They also played club soccer together in Japan, lived on the same site, rode bikes to exercise and enjoyed life as professionals after years of juggling soccer in Norway.

“Hege may seem shy when there are lots of people around, but when you’re roommate with her, she’s a fun girl,” says Store. “Great sense of humor, laughter, jokes and she is humble, caring for people and an asset to everything.”

Riise, pictured with striker Ellen White, will lead GB into a group with Chile, Canada and hosts Japan at the OlympicsRiise (second from left, pictured with striker Ellen White) will lead GB into a group with Chile, Canada and hosts Japan at the Olympics

Former US international Marcia McDermott experienced Riise’s worth firsthand as the head coach of Carolina Courage and coached the then 31-year-old in the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association.

“Hege has a tremendous amount of knowledge and was a real professional,” says McDermott. “She came out early to work on things; her habits were great.

“She’s straightforward so she tells you what she’s thinking and she loves to play – Hege is a lot of fun in the game.”

A decade later, the two women enjoyed training together and supported Pia Sundhage when a US team filled with big figures reached the final of the 2011 World Cup.

“What’s special about Hege is that she’s seen the game so well as a player, sees it quickly and is ahead of the game, and it’s the same as a coach,” said McDermott.

“She has so much respect for Hege and her knowledge, and she has so much respect for everyone around her, that she does it incredibly well. She may be quiet, but when she speaks, you listen.”

Among those who have benefited from this kind of calm but inspiring coaching is the recently retired Norwegian defender Ingrid Moe Wold, who played for Everton last season after a trophy-filled career under Riise at LSK Kvinner.

“Hege is a big figure in Norway, but she’s really humble,” says Wold. “She’s not a person who talks too much or too highly about herself. I liked that as a trainer.

“She taught me to be humble and to focus on the next step, never to be too satisfied and never finished and always to improve as a team and a player.”

Wold, who moved to Oslo from a small town to play for LSK, saw the caring side of her coach, Riise, who welcomed her into her family and invited her to dine with her daughter and mother.

As the captain of Riise, the 31-year-old also saw her steely side.

“She involved me in a lot of decisions and discussions,” says Wold. “It was always fun because I knew that if she had made up her mind, she wouldn’t listen to me anyway. But it’s nice for the players to at least feel involved.”

What can Team GB expect from her?

“She will focus on making the players believe in themselves,” said Wold. “That everyone feels good, is professional, thinks about the next game and stays positive. She is a positive person.”

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