Reaching the Olympics has been a lifelong dream for Rhona Lloyd. As a child she didn’t know what sport she wanted to compete in, but she knew she wanted to be an athlete at the Games. The milestone could soon be a reality for the 24-year-old, if all goes according to plan.
Lloyd, from Edinburgh, has been selected as part of GB Sevens’ extended squad for the rearranged Tokyo Olympics and she is doing all she can to earn a spot on the squad heading for Japan.
Lloyd’s ambition of Olympic success has meant her 15s game has taken a back seat. Lloyd plays in the Premier 15s for Loughborough Lightning, who have reached the semi-finals this season. She has also won 28 caps for Scotland after making her debut during the 2016 Six Nations. However, the Olympic dream is one she puts above all else in rugby, a sport she took up in high school.
“Since I was a kid I used to say I want to go to the Olympics,” Lloyd said. “At that point I wasn’t even playing rugby. I was just mad competitive. It’s been a dream of mine and one that became really real to me during the 2016 Olympics. I just had a shoulder operation and the first couple of weeks I was hardly sleeping.
“Although it was in Rio I promise I watched more than anybody else in the UK because I was up at ridiculous hours of the morning. I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do’ and ‘How do I make that possible for me?’
“For that opportunity to come around to me when it did is really special. I’m proud of myself. I want to go all the way with it really.”
Lloyd will find out if she has made the cut for the trimmed GB team in six weeks’ time, but for now she is putting the uncertainty around the Games even going ahead out of her mind. “It’s been challenging. But actually I’m preparing for it to go ahead. When people make comments that suggest otherwise, I’ve just chosen not to take them on board.
“I remember in the 2020 Six Nations we [Scotland] got told our game against England had been postponed 24 hours because of a storm. There were girls crying. Everybody was like, ‘Oh I’m at work tomorrow, I can’t play’. It was almost like the world had ended.
“Now we get told a game is cancelled and we’re like, ‘OK, on to the next one, what’s the plan?’ We’ve become so adaptable in the last year. I think for a long-term journey as athletes that’s really valuable.”
Another thing that has been valuable to Lloyd is the offer of a professional contract and equal pay. Great Britain Sevens operate a banded pay structure to give equal opportunities so men and women can be financially rewarded at the same level.
“I think that’s absolutely mad [to have a contract]. Being a professional rugby player is something I didn’t know I would ever have the chance to do. So I guess, on an individual basis, that meant the world [to me].
“But also then for our squad to be matched with the men equally just shows the value that the British Olympic Association and the national lottery funding are putting on women’s rugby.”
Lloyd will be taking part in a behind-closed-doors Olympic preparation tournament this weekend at St George’s Park, home of England football. GB women team will face Ireland and France while the men take on USA and Ireland, with the games on England Rugby channels. Lloyd thinks the tournament is a great opportunity for GB women to judge themselves two months out from the Olympics.
“We haven’t spoken about our opposition. We’re very much focusing on us and what we can do. I think just trying to judge ourselves on our performance rather than the outcome. You have 22 players who haven’t played together before and we’re all going to do that for the first time. We’re going to make mistakes but I think the important bit from this weekend is learning from it and developing it after.”