Women qualify for Youth Olympic Games Sevens10 October 2013
YOUTH OLYMPICS: Australia’s youngest female Rugby Sevens players have been given a boost on the road to the Rio Olympic Games with news of their qualification for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
By virtue of a reallocation of quota places, the Australian Sevens girls will take to the field at the second edition of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to be held in Nanjing, China in August 2014.
Australian Sevens has been typified by young up-and-comers; such is the significance of this opportunity.
“For us, the future is more important than right now,” says Tiana Penitani, who at 17 was Australia's youngest-ever representative of either a 15s or Sevens Rugby World Cup side at the Rugby World Cup Sevens earlier this year.
“You look at the other teams in the world - they’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge in their game, but we’ve got a really, really young side that’s fit, strong and still learning. So I think for us, our bigger picture is the Olympics, and by then we’ll have probably a much more experienced side.”
Penitani burst onto the Sevens scene as a member of the undefeated team that won the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival - a much smaller event compared to the International Olympic Committee’s 3,500 athlete event.
Penitani and three other Australians have since progressed into the senior squad: Brooke Anderson, Charlotte Caslick and Evania Pelite.
“At the Youth Olympic Festival I’d only just started playing Sevens a couple of months before,” Penitani explained.
“The opportunity that the Youth Olympic Festival gave me opened up so many doors. I made the national women’s team, it gave me recognition, and it was another pathway for schoolgirls and girls my age to gain experience.
“The most confronting thing for me was probably the contact. I got my head around that and I was confident within myself to come up against full grown women at an international level and it made me a much better player. It boosted my confidence levels.”
An opportunity like the YOG will give Penitani another unique opportunity to excel, should she be selected.
“When I play with the girls my age I feel a lot more confident. I can be a leader and share both my experience and knowledge of the game.
“Competing at the Youth Olympics would be incredible. It would be a bit bigger than the Youth Olympic Festival and it would be an eye opener as to what the Olympic Games could be like - and that’s always an athletes’ dream.
“That’s always been a dream of mine to go to the Olympics, so I think the Youth Olympics would be another opportunity to find yourself as a player and see what works for you.”
Caslick, skipper of the successful AYOF side, will be overage for the YOG, but will be watching the next generation with keen interest.
“The Youth Olympic Games will be an awesome pathway to Rio for these girls. I know that our management are looking at them for future teams, so it is important for them to give it all they’ve got.”
As Anthony Eddy, General Manager of Australian Rugby Sevens explains:
“Exposing our athletes to the Olympic environment well before Rio is a real positive, and a motivation to perform well.
“The Youth Olympic Games has provided a great pathway for athletes, and we see this as an opportunity for girls from this squad to push their case for selection in preparation for Rio 2016.”
At the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, Australian kayaker Jess Fox won gold. Two years later, she won silver at the London Olympic Games. Fox will be attending the Games as a Young Ambassador to support Chef de Mission, Susie O’Neill.
The YOG begins on 16 August 2014 and Australia anticipates sending a team of approximately 90 athletes aged 14-18.
Australian Olympic Youth Team