LIVING THE DREAM: Burton chasing Rugby sevens gold medal
PA David Davies
Abi Burton readily admits she is living the dream as part of the Great Britain women’s rugby sevens squad in Tokyo.
But 21-year-old Burton, a Castleford Tigers fan whose father and brothers are steeped in rugby league, has a bigger goal than just becoming an Olympian.
Britain finished fourth in women’s sevens at the Rio Games five years ago, which will undoubtedly be a motivating factor when they launch their medal bid next week.
“I honestly believe that we will go and win a medal, that we will go and win gold. That is our goal,” Burton said.
“I think this tournament is going to be one like no other. We haven’t played New Zealand, Australia or Canada, for instance, for more than 18 months.
“I think our preparation has put us in a good place coming into Tokyo, whereas you don’t know about other teams, you don’t know how much rugby they’ve been able to do.”
Team GB’s pool stage opponents include New Zealand and Kenya, with the top two in each of three groups guaranteed a quarter-final place.
And powerful, strong-running Burton is set to be a key part of head coach Scott Forrest’s plans across the three-day tournament at Tokyo Stadium.
Rugby league would perhaps have been an obvious sporting path for Burton to have taken. Her father Danny played for Halifax, while brothers Oli and Joe are currently at Batley and Bradford Bulls, respectively.
“I still go and watch Castleford when I can,” she added. “I am a big Tigers supporter – always have been and always will be.
“I never thought I would get involved in sevens, just because I am the type of player that is quite a dominant ball-carrier and a breakdown specialist, and I just never thought I would get the opportunity to go to an Olympics.
“That dream was kind of reignited when I got back into the sevens programme, and I literally am just taking it all in and trying to absorb everything.
“Every day, I wake up and I am like ‘I am in Tokyo, I am actually here, I am going to be an Olympian’. It is a dream come true.”
The women’s action kicks off next Thursday, with Britain being joined by fellow contenders such as New Zealand, defending Olympic champions Australia and Canada.
Co-captains Abbie Brown and Megan Jones lead a British squad that includes the likes of Wales wing Jasmine Joyce and 2014 England World Cup winner Natasha Hunt.
Brown, Joyce and Hunt featured in Rio when sevens made its Olympics bow, while Jones was a travelling reserve for that tournament.
Brown said: “The excitement is there. It is a pretty tough draw, and every pool is difficult.
“What makes it so exciting is that we haven’t faced these teams for something like 18 months, and they don’t know who we are either. What are they going to bring? What are we going to bring? No-one really knows what to expect.”
And Jones added: “I set myself a goal after Rio, and that goal was to come back and win a medal at this Olympic Games. I am very set on that dream.
“The competition is going to be fast and exciting, and I have no doubt that every team is going to be firing.”
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