Kenya sevens eyes Rio Olympic success

Biko Adema (Gallo Images)
Biko Adema (Gallo Images)

Nairobi - Buoyed by their stunning victory in the Singapore sevens, Kenya's men's team will be vying for a top-three finish at next month's Rio Olympics when the sevens game makes its debut.

The team, is set to leave for Rio de Janeiro on Sunday after undergoing a rigorous two-week high altitude training camp at Nandi Hills in Western Kenya, alongside their women counterparts.

Head coach Benjamin Ayimba has overseen a marked improvement with Kenya's performances in the international circuit since his return to the helm last September, and he's looking forward to greater success in Rio.

"I don't know where they (players) get their energy, but they are a bunch of very good people, I think that is very positive. And winning that Singapore tournament, has made us realise that we can actually win in the Olympics," Ayimba told AFP.

"I am very confident, bordering arrogance actually... the gold actually, nothing less... for the boys the gold is a target, and for the girls to get to the top eight of their tournament because that will give us a platform to prepare then for the next Olympics."

Kenya, currently ranked ninth in the world, are drawn in a tough Pool C in Rio, alongside former world champions New Zealand, England and Japan.

Top player Biko Adema, who has returned to the team after a long injury-lay off, said Kenya was looking forward to playing in Rio.

"Rugby has not been in the Olympics so it's awesome that it is now there. I don't think that I would say that we are scared, we are just probably very excited," Adema said.

"We need to have our focus, which is to play and play well."

Kenya have made huge strides in rugby sevens, which apart from athletics will be the only team sport representing the east African nation in Rio, famed for its middle and long distance running.

Apart from winning the Singapore sevens - their first-ever victory in the international circuit series - Kenya reached the semi-final of the World Cup in Dubai in 2009.

Many young Kenyan players have been inspired to play in the sevens side, as compared to the traditional 15-a-side game, which has long struggled to find a sure footing in the country.

The popularity of the sevens, known for its dynamism and crowd-appeal began to change in Kenya in the late 1960s with the introduction of the seven-a-side league competition.

"Kenyans have always been great athletes - they like to run and the sevens gives them space to run all over whereas in the 15s, space is very restrictive," a former Kenyan player, Irving McLean told AFP in an interview recently.

The team's success has now inspired young Kenyans who now rugby sevens as a new career opportunity to earn a living and change their lives.

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