Just 19, Katie Doar has grabbed the attention of the hockey world with her silky skills, and is on her way to her first Olympics in Tokyo alongside her childhood idol, Stacey Michelsen.
The latest Olympian to come out of Kamo’s Black Sticks factory, Katie Doar is already a bit of a legend.
To begin with, the 19-year-old is part of an incredible sporting legacy – the 15th Black Stick to have graduated from the small school of Kamo Intermediate, just north of Whangarei.
It stretches back to Neil McLeod, who was part of the 1976 New Zealand men’s team who won Olympic gold in Montreal, and includes 12 women who’ve played for the Black Sticks, including Doar’s elder sister, Madi and two others bound for the Tokyo Olympics - captain Stacey Michelsen and veteran Ella Gunson.
But Doar is not just any player. She’s already being compared to her original hockey idol Michelsen – for her magical first touch of the ball, her control and stick skills that belie her years.
Michelsen, the most capped Black Stick of all time who’s heading to her third Olympics, is blown away by the talented teenager, who she first guided when Doar was around nine years old.
But Doar holds a record that Michelsen and others can never better.
During her two years at Kamo Intermediate, Katie Doar became the most striped student in the school's history.
How do you earn your stripes? Through sports, academic and cultural achievements and services to the school.
Doar was so determined to beat sister Madi’s school record of 89 stripes she threw herself at everything the school had to offer. She collected 104 of them.
“I had them all down my sleeves and across the front of my shirt for things like cross country, debating and doing a fun run,” Doar says. “I was so proud of Madi, but I was always going to beat her.”
(They’ve since changed the rules for gathering stripes at Kamo, so the record looks safe with the younger Doar).
The sisters were later boarders at St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland (following Michelson there) and now share a house in the city with their two dogs, Kevin and Bill, and play club hockey together for Southern.
Madi was the first to make the Black Sticks, debuting for New Zealand in 2017 at the age of 17. The following year she won gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. She’s now working and studying fulltime.
Then Katie followed in 2019, first wearing the silver fern when she, too, was 17. And now she’s bound for her first Olympics.
“I wasn’t with Madi when I got the email to say I was in the team, but when I got home there were flowers and stuff from her,” Katie Doar says. “She knows what it’s like to go to big events, so she’s pretty chuffed for me.
“I still didn’t think my first big event would be these Olympics, right up until I got the email. I was pretty chill about it all so it came as a shock.”
The shockwaves reverberated all the way to Kamo, where the Doars’ mother, Helen, was working in her physiotherapy clinic.
“When she heard, she said to her patient: ‘Sorry I have to go ring my daughter’ and she started crying,” Doar says. “I was laughing: ‘Oh my gosh you’re so weird, Mum’. But Mum and Dad were so happy, because they knew how much my sister and I have put into the sport.”
Another mum elated by the news would have been Michelsen’s mother, Barbara. She’s a common denominator in the stories of Michelsen, Gunson and the Doar sisters – as their hockey coach at Kamo Intermediate.
“I was so fortunate to have Barb Michelson as my coach; it was insane how much I learned. It was probably the first real spark where I realised I loved hockey,” says Doar, who followed her sister into the game after being frustrated by her football games being cancelled by rain.
“I’ll never forget how much fun hockey was back then. I said to Mum the other day, I actually miss being that young.”
There was also the thrill for the Doar sisters of being invited to train with Stacey Michelsen whenever she’d return to Whangarei. Michelsen, crowned the World Young Player of the Year in 2011, wanted to help the talented young siblings build on their skills.
And that continues today – Michelsen, with 291 international caps to her name, still helping the 19-cap Doar.
“It’s still so nice to train alongside her and keep learning from her; she’s so helpful,” Doar says. “I’ve always loved Stacey, loved watching her play, and I still do.
Michelsen says it’s been incredible to follow Doar’s rise in the game.
“When I first watched Katie as a youngster, I could tell she was a special kind of player. She had a skillset that stood out amongst her peers,” Michelsen says. “And her trajectory has been a very steep curve – she’s developed so quickly. But that certainly hasn’t been a surprise to me. She’s a very special kind of player.”
And can Michelsen see herself in Doar?
“Obviously it’s difficult, because I want to flatter Katie, but I don’t want to talk about myself!” Michelsen laughs.
“But I think we’re similar in terms of our ability on the ball. She has an incredible ability with the skills she has – particularly for someone of her age – and her control is so great. It’s always stood out through the levels she’s played at, but now it stands out internationally, too.”
Michelsen gives credit to the people in Northland hockey, like her mum, who’ve devoted so much time to helping develop a steady stream of Olympians.
“We’re really privileged to come from a region that has that community focus and my mum is certainly one of those people who has given back, coaching for years and years,” she says. Her mum still works and coaches at Kamo Intermediate. “All the coaches up there are so willing to give extra time, which makes so much difference when you’re developing at that key age group of intermediate age kids.”
Doar is in her second year studying exercise and sports science part-time at Massey University. She has her final exam of the semester today, and flies out with the Black Sticks on Friday for Perth, where they will finally play the two Pro League games against the Hockeyroos that were postponed in March last year by the Covid pandemic.
“The study is great to have something else to focus on. It gives some balance and keeps me busy,” Doar says.
She’s looking at becoming a physio: “But I try not to say that to mum because she gets all excited”.
On the field, Doar revels in playing club hockey - especially alongside her sister. And she'd love to mirror the international longevity of Michelsen. It’s now up to her to stamp her mark on the Black Sticks - she just has to determine where she’ll do it.
“I often get asked ‘what position are you?’ and I have no idea,” she laughs. “I started off as a striker, and then I play midfield for club, but before that I played defender. I can play wherever, just chuck me in.
“I like midfield, but there’s a lot more running, which is hard. I’m a battler.”
Doar is prepared for her first Olympic experience to be unusual. Following the protocols in the Tokyo Olympics Playbook, she knows she can’t tuck her mouthguard in her sock anymore or grab her water bottle (her manager has to hand it to her). And she’ll constantly have to wear a mask unless she’s eating, sleeping, training or playing.
She’s disappointed her family, who’ve done so much for her throughout her hockey career, can’t be there. But she’s ready for the ride of her life.
Michelsen’s advice to Doar?
“Just to make sure she knows to treasure it and enjoy it. It’s an event like no other,” she says.
“You really feel for these young girls going to these Games in such a strange environment. But I’ve said this to them - and I do believe it - your first Games are so special that all of these strange protocols we’re going to have to adhere to won’t dampen that because it’s such a special experience.
“So I hope Katie lives in the moment and enjoys it as much as she can. And I think she will do great.”
* For the record, beyond their hockey internationals, Kamo Intermediate has also produced Football Ferns Hannah Wilkinson and Katie Rood, Black Fern Leanne Atkins, international triathlete Simone Ackermann, NZ beach volleyball player Suzy McAsey, All Black Ian Jones and Black Cap Bryan Young.