2016 Games can't come soon enough for Australia's World Cup-winning captain
Australia captain Cheryl Soon held aloft the sevens World Cup trophy in Dubai last year and thought her world could not get any better. Then she undertook a mission 'so incredible, it was surreal'.
'I was honoured to be one of six players chosen as a select panel to present the bid to the IOC members,' said Soon, who captained the Aussie Amazons to win the Cable & Wireless Worldwide Hong Kong Women's Sevens title on Friday night. 'It seemed from the outset they were positive towards the inclusion of rugby.'
While she jokes 'they didn't ask too many hard questions', she described a different kind of coaching. 'It was as though we were auditioning for a really important acting role. We were coached and prepared and practised, then did it all over again and again, so we were all really comfortable with the material we wanted to communicate.'
Apart from her belief that the International Olympic Committee had a definite view on women being represented at sevens in the Olympics, she also felt that cultural diversity was important for the global body. 'I felt that the panel was looking beyond the usual rugby nations to smaller ones, too. I think they were aware that rugby is strong in the Pacific region, but that there were other nations on the ascendant. I think this is why Kenya and Kazakhstan were selected for the panel.'
Argentine great Augustin Pichot spoke in Spanish, Anastasia Khamova (Kazakhstan) spoke in Russian and Jonah Lomu (New Zealand) and I presented in English.' Lomu and Soon represented five nations between them, summing up the diaspora of cultures in rugby players from Australia and New Zealand.
Whereas Lomu is of Tongan descent, Soon says: 'My father is from Singapore, my mother is native Maori, but since 1995 I have chosen Australia as my home. Despite our different languages and cultures, we bonded incredibly well as a team.'
She might only stand a diminutive 1.56 metres and weigh only 59kg, but she stood tall for her belief in the sport when it came to the presentation.
'I talked about my World Cup-winning experience. Winning in Dubai was an incredible experience, as was winning at the Hong Kong Sevens. I had no idea at the time where those wins would lead. They ended up signifying a whole lot more than I ever could have imagined.
'Take nothing away from the World Cup, every kid dreams about going to the Olympics and winning, and I want to be part of it.'
Soon has been lucky to avoid injury, and listens closely to the advice of her coaches. 'I'm 34 now. They say it's possible. Look at [England's] Ben Gollings, he's still playing and has remained fairly free of injury. I think it's possible.'
Soon believes women's rugby will reach 'an outstanding level' with its inclusion as an Olympic sport. The Wallaroos captain hopes the legacy of rugby as the newest Olympic sport is that funding improves for women's rugby. Citing her team's experience, she said: 'In the lead-up to the World Cup, we only had one training camp paid for.'