Kenya women’s sevens captain Philadelphia Olando and coach Felix Oloo have been hard at work making sure that the team are in prime physical and mental condition as Tokyo 2020 draws closer, with the women’s sevens tournament set to kick off on Thursday, 29 July, 2021.
Every squad member working towards a bigger goal
Olando told World Rugby that coach Oloo has created a fitness plan for every member of the squad, with everyone working hard on their fitness levels while no team training has been allowed during the lockdown.
“The coach and management have shared plans for each player to use,” she said. “We are currently doing individual training – no team training – because of COVID-19.”
While the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was a setback for Olando and her team mates, rescheduling to 2021 has given the team more time to prepare for the tournament.
“It (postponing the tournament) gives room for every player to prove themselves and therefore creates competition in the squad. We place an emphasis on core skills, and we will be playing attacking rugby,” said Oloo.
A new generation of Kenyan rugby stars
Kenya will be looking to rising young stars, such as 22-year-old Grace Adhiambo Okulu, to bring flair to their game during Tokyo 2020. A good try-scorer and a versatile player, Okulu played a crucial role in helping the Lionesses secure qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Olando will be leading a skilled young team looking to create a legacy at next year’s Games. “A lot of young players have come through the ranks. We also have a coach who is keen on skill and structure format,” said the captain. “The young players are fast and talented; we expect to have a structured and skilled game plan.”
Drawing on the experience of Rio 2016
The Kenya Lionesses featured at the first-ever Olympic sevens tournament in Rio 2016, where they were drawn in a group with New Zealand, France and Spain.
The team finished in eleventh position at Rio 2016 after winning one out of five matches played, which included a 22-10 victory over Colombia, and Olando believes the team will learn from this experience in order to be more competitive at Tokyo 2020.
“The experience in Rio was a great one. We learned what top teams are made of and we also learned that hard work, exposure, and mental preparation is needed to play at the top level. Lastly, Kenya has the natural genes to play the game; we just need more exposure and we will challenge the top teams.”
Support required from all stakeholders
Olando emphasises that in order for Kenya to be competitive at Tokyo 2020 they will need the support of all stakeholders in ensuring that they are mentally and physically prepared.
“It will require 110 per cent commitment from the government, the union and the players. We need finances to play international quality friendlies, good nutrition, further training and education on rugby laws, and good pay for the players to enable them to concentrate on the task ahead.”
Looking forward to making memories off the field
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games consisted of 10,500 athletes from 206 countries participating in 306 events throughout the tournament. As she did in Rio four years ago, Olando will once again be sharing the spotlight with some of the most talented sportswomen and men from around the world at Tokyo 2020.
It is this aspect of the event, and the friendships and camaraderie off the field, which gave Olando lasting memories of Rio 2016 and what she is looking forward to experiencing again at Tokyo 2020.
“I met some of my heroes, Ellia Green and Portia Woodman. Being in one arena with the best of the best in all sports from different countries was overwhelming to say the least. Furthermore, the atmosphere, the sceneries, accommodation, food and the leisure parks were just top notch. It was just beautiful.”
“Japan has a rich culture; they are technologically advanced and have a friendly population. We expect a fantastic and exciting time.”