A wet field in upstate New York may be a long way from the heat of Rio, but the search for talent for Tokyo 2020 and beyond is already well under way
Montauk sending a few lads, read the tweet from a friend. Look out for a kid called Brandon. 6.3/ 220. Wing/ full-back.
At Saratoga Rugby Grounds on a wet afternoon in June, there he was. Brandon Johnson, No62, lunging after an opponent to drag him down and win possession of the ball.
The enormous 17 -year-old was attending a talent tracker camp run by the Northeast Academy. He had survived a morning combining: sprints and jumps and something called Illinois Agility. Now he was mixing it with talented players five or six years older. He came off the field for a breather. Another man went down. Johnson operated back on, took a knocking of his own and disappeared to the medical tent.
In Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, after 92 years, rugby union will return to the Olympic Games. Americas men and women have genuine hopes of a medal. In Saratoga, the Northeast Academy was looking for players to follow. Sevens will again be played in Tokyo in four years time; the decision on 2024 and after comes next year.
The Olympics has always been an eight-year project, said Alex Magleby, performance director for USA Rugby, down the phone from Boston. Among the elite, the end of Rio will be the start of the road to Tokyo. Contract renegotiation is to be done for stars like Carlin Isles, Perry Baker and Alev Kelter and, vitally, coach-and-fours such as Mike Friday and Chris Brown. Magleby said all the coach-and-fours bargains had been verbally agreed to, some have been put in writing and some have been signed. Preparations for the 2019 World Cup will also be factored in, Olympic status having helped develop the likes of Danny Barrett and Zack Test, who played 15 s in England last year. Budgets will be discussed, targets set.
Away from the elite, development work will continue and hopefully grow. It has been going on for four years , now in nine academies spread across the country. Overseen by Magleby, the network includes private companies Atavus( Seattle and San Diego) and Tiger Rugby( Ohio ), and a promising startup in Utah.
Magleby said: We started because players coming into US camps from club sevens were just far below the standard required. We needed a step to the 300 or so trains a year that guys at the OTC[ Olympic Training Center, in Chula Vista, California] were getting.
So we needed to create quasi-professional training environments for amateur athletes to use with the caveat to ensure that we didnt take away from the club game, to make sure it was actually improving.
The academies stage tryouts and camps, monitor training schedules and send sevens squads to compete at home and abroad. As with anything in the American game, they are not richly funded and local drive counts for much. The 133 men and women who answered an open call to Saratoga did so at their own expense from New York, Buffalo, Boston and beyond. Entry was $60 each.
We started in May of 2013, said Sean Horn, the Northeast Academy founder whose day task is athletics director at the Kings College in New York City. It was all unknown. But we had a pretty good turnout our first summertime and we took a team to Twickenham and did well at the World Club Sevens, and that really propelled us ahead.
Steve Lewis helped establish the Northeast Academy in its New York iteration the other operates around Boston before moving to run the playing side of PRO Rugby, the 15 -a-side league which merely concluded its opening season.
These camps have been evolving, he said in Saratoga, pacing a narrow space between two pitchings, from strictly NFL-style testing metrics to how do you introduce rugby into it. So we started abilities, drills and games, but last year we felt we needed players to demonstrate themselves in live rugby. Since then its men and women. We have considered a concomitant rise in the standard of womens sevens to the rise of mens.
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