'You can't put a value on it": Tokyo Olympics boost as Australian rugby sevens gold medal winners recommit

Womens - Sydney
by Christy Doran

They've been out of sight and out of mind but Australia's chances of defending their Olympic Sevens gold medal received a boost on Thursday, with veteran duo Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams re-signing for the Tokyo campaign.

While Super Rugby AU was able to get up and running after COVID-19 initially brought the world to a halt, the sevens format of the game couldn't quite do the same.

The international element of the game, where Australia's men's and women's teams literally fly from one country to the next for tournaments, meant the game couldn't get kick-started.

At least, not for now.

It left some of Australia's most talented sportsmen and women questioning what would happen to the sevens tournament.

"We had moments where it was like, ‘What’s happening with the program, where are we at?’ " Parry told RUGBY.com.au

"There was definitely a few days there where it was like 'Do I need to look to go back to teaching?' "

Thankfully, with support from the Australian Olympic Committee, the Sevens program was backed and the charge to Tokyo is on.

"Initially it was hard to get through, mentally more so than physically but we’ve actually been able to make a lot inroads," Parry says.

"It took a while for that realization that 2020 Tokyo wasn’t going to happen, but you’ve got have your head down, bum up and train for another 12 months and get the job done.

"But as soon as we got that certainty that the program was going ahead, I wanted to be a part of that and thankfully Rugby Australia’s giving me this opportunity to continue on this journey."

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The decision by Parry and Williams, who co-captained the team to Olympic gold at the Rio Games in 2016, comes off the back of the announcement that fellow gold medal winner Chloe Dalton will stay with the program until the Tokyo Games too.

Australia's coach John Manenti was naturally delighted by their decisions to stay.

"Obviously it’s been a tough period for everyone and some of those girls with their focus being on 2020, who had potentially planned other things in their lives that might have post-2020, and to have them refocus and commit to us has been unreal," Manenti told RUGBY.com.au.

"Having them and around and committed until at least Tokyo is unreal."

Manenti said you couldn't put a "value" on having the gold medal-winning duo in the squad.

"They’re both really good people," he said.

"I don’t know how many times we’ve heard it but good people make good players and they’re great role models for the younger girls.

"They’ve experienced highs and lows. They’re all about the team and the hard work that makes the team. Those shared experiences and book of life that they’ve been through, coming back from injuries, coming back from losses, winning in the last seconds of the game, those experiences are hard to share and they’re both very nurturing and greatly respected.

"You can’t put a value on it, but it’s a bit like a George Smith, who probably wasn’t as fast at the end of his career as earlier, but brought other assets to the field."

For Australian rugby too, the possibility of winning another gold medal represents a huge chance to elevate the standing of not just women's rugby but women's sport in the country.

"I know what it did for Rugby Australia last time, I know what it did for our pathways and participation and just the general interest in the game, and if we can run that for another four years it’d be enormous," he said.

"We just came back from a week out in the central west where we did a camp with girls, and these girls are recognizable and they’ve got heroes.

"It’s not just young girls that came out there, but it was young boys too.

"In a tough period that we’re going through as a rugby country, I think it’d be a great endorsement to be able to give them some more hope and something else to celebrate one of our teams."

Parry added: "It was really good to get back to Bathurst and get in touch with the country and out of the lights of Sydney, and to go back to where Jakiya Whitfield is from and stay on her family property and do some clinics and run around with the cubs program.

"That’s what people love, they love seeing people making the effort to get out in the country to the remote areas where they don’t get that week-in, week out.

"We had a session in Bathurst and Orange and signed autographs, gave out some gear and put some smiles on peoples’ faces, and you can really see that there are young girls that have aspirations to be Olympians and we’re very luck that we have Jakiya who's from there.

"It shows these girls that there is a pathway to the top if you want to go and get it."

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