Japan holds special memories for Tom Mitchell – ones that the sevens star hopes he can replicate next year on the biggest stage of all, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.
It was back in 2015 – when Tokyo was still on the World Sevens Series tour – that England’s men claimed victory there, downing South Africa in the final for Mitchell’s first-ever tournament win.
There has been plenty more success for Mitchell since then, including an Olympic silver medal at Rio 2016 and Commonwealth bronze on the Gold Coast two years later.
But next year attention returns to Tokyo and the 2020 Olympics, after Mitchell and England qualified England’s place earlier this month at the European repechage event in Colomiers.
And while the 29-year-old still has a way to go to rubber stamp his own passport for Tokyo, the Cuckfield star is hoping for that familiar feeling.
“Japan used to be on the world series, the last time it was there we won it back in 2015,” he said.
“That was the first tournament I ever won in my sevens career which is a nice memory for me!
“One year to go is kind of the first point that we can realise that this is really happening next year.
“The first part of the realisation was after we gained that qualification on behalf of Team GB, and now we have got one year to go, it starts to feel that little bit more real.
“Of course there is a lot going on between now and then, but it is nice to have that moment of looking ahead and thinking ‘what if?’ and just enjoying the excitement of an amazing competition.”
Mitchell and co surprised many – even themselves – at Rio 2016 in taking silver behind Fiji as Rugby 7s made its Olympic debut.
Fast forward four years, and Mitchell knows the challenge that awaits them this time around.
“We went to Rio as unknowns, there had never been a Team GB, we hadn’t played on the World 7s series at all that year,” he added.
“Given that, it was an amazing experience and we certainly feel like we probably went beyond our potential in what we achieved out there.
“It is always tough losing in finals, don’t get me wrong. But we felt like we delivered so well in terms of getting the medal and in how we delivered with the whole Team GB process.
“We have unbelievable memories of that, but they seem quite distant memories now.
“The Olympics means Sevens has been propelled onto greater heights and teams are trying to put more and more into it to try and get in those top spots.
“Look at our qualification this year, it was much more challenging than four years ago.
“Last time around we probably took it for granted a little bit, getting fourth spot in the 2014/15 season was an amazing achievement and we kind of just brushed past.
“Whereas this time around we had to work for it, going down to the European repechage and having to win that one-off tournament and we really appreciate it. Hopefully that makes for a better competition next year.”
England have finished fifth in the last two World Series, but with the added boost of players from the rest of Great Britain, could take some stopping in Tokyo.
And after second step on the podium last time around, is Mitchell dreaming of his golden ticket in Tokyo?
“What I took away from Rio was not just the silver medal, it was the experience and the journey which was just as rewarding,” he added.
“If I can get that again in Tokyo then I will be an incredibly happy man and just to be involved would be an amazing thing.
“But obviously that Team GB men’s team will be going all out for top spot, no-one goes there to come second or third.”