Like all Olympic hopefuls, Tom Mitchell has had to wait an extra twelve months to get a crack at glory.
The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics got underway in earnest this weekend and the former OURFC star is skippering the Team GB Men’s team in the 7s competition. The team got off to a comfortable start with a 24-0 win over Canada. This was followed later on Monday with a 34-0 victory over Japan to secure a place in the quarter finals.
At the Rio Games, Mitchell led the squad to the final picking up silver after being defeated by the hugely skilful Fiji team. When it comes to 7s rugby, there is never any shame in losing to Fiji (on that occasion coached by former Cambridge Blue Ben Ryan) but Mitchell will no doubt have been dreaming of going one better.
The journey has not been a straightforward one though. The coronavirus pandemic not only meant a delay to the Games but it also caused a financial crisis in the sport. Funding for 7s rugby was cut severely and it looked highly unlikely that the men’s and women’s sides would be able to compete.
However, thanks to a deal between the National Lottery, RFU, SRU and WRU, funding was secured. It’s been far from ideal preparation and the challenge on the pitch isn’t going to be straightforward either. Mitchell’s men are drawn in the same pool as the defending champions. Fiji’s win in 2016 was their nation’s first ever Olympic gold and judging by the squad they’ve selected, they’ll be hell-bent on adding to that tally.
But Mitchell, who scored for the Dark Blues in their 2011 win in The Men’s Varsity Match is confident that the struggle to get to Tokyo will hold his steeds in good stead.
“There is so much quality in the squad. But it is not just the rugby playing ability, it’s also the journey we’ve all had to get to this point and the resilience that everyone has shown.” Mitchell told the Press Association before the Games.
The crunch match against Fiji takes place on Tuesday and the defending champions have had their scary moments en route to beating Canada and Japan. All of which will give Mitchell’s men confidence of topping the pool and securing a potentially easier route to the latter stages.