29 March 2020

Rugby star Abi Burton on the Olympic dream that was snatched from her grasp and why she now wants it even more

England rugby sevens star Abi Burton was on the cusp of achieving her Olympic dream as she and Team GB geared up for Tokyo.

Then coronavirus changed everything.

And while she might be  forgiven for taking her foot off the pedal, the 20-year-old is now fully focused on being even better prepared for 2021.

Burton, who was recently announced in Team GB's initial Olympic training squad, said: "The dream doesn't change because it's postponed.

"It means you can focus on it more and to an extent it makes me want it even more and work even harder.

"You always think you can't want to go to the Olympics more than you already do, but this has changed it.

"Before, I really wanted it, but now I really, really, really, want it! Just because it's now another year to wait, doesn't change the fact that I've always wanted to be an Olympian.

"It just motivates me even more that I can't have it right now."

The initial GB Squad at their first training session (Abi Burton)

Burton actually believes the delay could have a positive impact on the team, saying: "It gives us a chance to build more as a team with another year of experience on our side.

"I know we don't know right now when we'll be playing again but all we can do is do everything we can and we'll be back to doing what we love by the end of the year.

"We're quite a young team and another year on we will have so much more experience behind us, so we just need to use this time and know that we are all in this battle together."

The Olympic hopeful believes they would have performed well this summer.

"We weren't just going to Tokyo. We were going to Tokyo to win a medal.

"So we're going to take it in our stride, control the controllables, but follow all guidelines and ensure everyone remains healthy while still trying to achieve your dream."

Abi and housemate, Sydney have got inventive with their training while distancing (Abi Burton)

But despite her obvious ambition, Burton is well aware of what takes priority just now.

"It's a time for us to be selfless and put aside our dreams and hopes for the Olympics and playing rugby all the time to just focus on the health of the community and ourselves," she said.

"This is bigger than rugby and at the end of the day, we are all pieces of a puzzle that must work together, even if that's apart."

And so, social distancing does not mean Netflix and fridge raiding, but a chance to focus on herself and improve both her physical and mental health.

Abi lives with fellow England Sevens player Sydney Gregson, and the pair are using their one outing a day as a chance to work on their running.

They also have a home gym set up in the garden and the England strength and conditioning coach Ben Mulligan has provided some inventive exercises based around the equipment at hand.

"We do all our fitness stuff together and we don’t see any of the other girls but we just try and do everything we can within all the guidelines.

"It’s quite easy for us to do all the gym stuff in pairs and still be able to carry on and push each other."

The pair have turned to some unusual means of training where Abi has taken to squat jumping with her housemate on her shoulders.

"Originally it all started out as a joke that we would squat with each other on our backs, but now it's becoming more of a reality and squatting Syd is going to have to become a regular part of my training!"

Abi jump squats with Sydney on her back (Abi Burton)

But aside from the practical, there's a philosophical element to Burton's approach to these difficult times, which she described as 'a perfect opportunity for people who’ve not got the handles on life'. 

"It’s like life’s saying: 'yeah, there’s this stuff all going on, but just take a moment to breathe and focus on you and what’s going on with you'."

Always focused, even when the ball isn't egg shaped (Abi Burton)

And her final piece of advice.

"Keep yourself happy and do stuff you enjoy. I'm a rugby nerd so I'm reading Ben Ryan's 'Seventh Heaven' about the Fiji rugby team, but Syd has got really into jigsaws."

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