Having been to one Olympic Games, Kenya sevens captain Philadelphia Olando (pictured) is determined to experience the pleasure of playing on sport’s biggest stage once again.
Olando says getting the chance to compete at Rio 2016, when rugby sevens made its debut, was a dream come true and Tokyo 2020 is now firmly in her team's sights.
“I played at 2016, it was a great experience – everybody dreams to be an Olympian,” Olando told World Rugby.
“Going to the Olympics in 2016 was a surprise so we weren’t as well prepared, but we have learnt our lessons and I believe the team is in good shape.
“We are looking to make it to a second Olympics.”
South Africa won the Rugby Africa Women's Sevens Championship in 2015 to effectively qualify for Rio 2016 but were unable to take their place as under South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee rules teams were unable to qualify as continental champions, thereby handing Kenya the opportunity as runners-up.
The Lionesses found the step up to facing the top teams on the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series a difficult one, but did manage one victory, over Colombia in the 11th-place play-off.
While a 'lucky break' may have allowed them to realise their Olympic dream four years ago, this time they want to get there purely on merit, by successfully defending their African title in the Tunisian city of Monastir this weekend.
Kenya won last year’s tournament in Botswana in the absence of South Africa with a 29-7 victory in the final over Uganda.
But the Springbok Women are included in this year’s line-up and Olando identifies them as their biggest threat as they chase the automatic qualification slot reserved for the winners.
“We’ll go there and take it a game at a time, but our biggest challenge is South Africa. We are looking forward to giving our best over there because we really want to qualify automatically, we don’t want second chances. We need to go hard at it.”
For those finishing second and third in Monastir, there is the consolation of a place in the global repechage tournament next June, but the Lionesses are confident that they have what it takes to take the direct route to Tokyo.
Exposure to top-level competition has instilled a new-found self-belief, and an injection of youth has also brought value to the group.
“We have more young players coming in, there has been a good progression – players like Stella Wafula, Christabel Lindo, Diana Awino and Vivian Akumu. They have shown so much potential. They bring a lot of positivity with them.”
At the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Olando, who plays centre in 15s, scored the game-clinching try in a 19-10 win over South Africa, while Wales were also beaten in the historic women's competition. Sixth place overall was a creditable performance for the Kenyans.
“We played against some of the bigger teams, like New Zealand, in Dubai last year and if you look at the Commonwealth Games, we really did quite well. There was a lot of improvement,” the 29-year-old points out.
While confident about their chances, Olando insists there is no danger of complacency when they play Ghana, Senegal and Botswana in Pool A on day one.
“We’ve never played Ghana before, but we’ve played Senegal and they are physical and Botswana like contact.
“Each team will bring their ‘A-game’, you cannot say that Zambia, or whoever, is a smaller team – you cannot underestimate anyone.”
For more information on the qualification process for Tokyo 2020, click here.
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