Patrick Kay has been a mainstay of the national men’s rugby sevens team for eight years, and is among the all-time top-10 most capped players for Canada, but until last week, it wasn’t a certainty that he would be representing the country at the 2020 Olympics.
It was “almost a relief,” the Duncan-born-and-raised Kay conceded, when he was included as Rugby Canada announced its 13-man roster for the Olympics that start in Tokyo later this month.
“There are 20 guys in the program now, and they’re all good rugby players,” he pointed out. “So a few guys were going to be disappointed.”
A graduate of Cowichan Secondary School who came up through the Cowichan Rugby Football Club, Kay played his first game for the senior national team in 2013, and helped Canada qualify for the Olympics — the first time for the men’s team — by winning the Rugby Americans North Sevens tournament in 2019. He still had to wait until last week to find out if he made the squad.
The Canadian team will leave for Japan on July 22, with little time to prepare before the tournament starts on July 26. There was supposed to be a 10-day camp for the team in Japan ahead of the tournament, but COVID-19 protocols forced its cancellation.
The Olympics were postponed for an entire year due to the global pandemic, and there are still some concerns about bringing together athletes from around the world at this time, but Kay is confident he and his teammates will be safe.
“I feel OK about it,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to be safe, and we know the Olympics are doing everything they can for us. Obviously, we’re only there a short time, limiting our exposure, and the team is taking precautions.”
The COVID pandemic struck in the middle of the 2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series, and the remainder of that tour and the entire 2020-21 series were cancelled. Canada went more than a year without facing international competition prior to the Emirates Invitational Sevens, held in Dubai on back-to-back weekends in April. It gave the players a chance to prepare for the Olympics, both in terms of competition and COVID protocols. Canada finished fifth on the first weekend, then reached the final on the second weekend, ultimately losing to Argentina.
“It was good to get in the Dubai heat and play some international games,” Kay commented.
One of Kay’s biggest supporters has been Robin MacDowell, a former national team sevens player and international coach who is opening a rugby academy at Cowichan Secondary School this fall, where Kay will be among the coaches. Naturally, MacDowell is thrilled to see Kay bound for the Olympics.
“Patrick Kay is one of the best players in the world, born and raised in the Cowichan Valley,” MacDowell said. “Patrick has been working towards representing Canada at the Olympic Games in rugby sevens since he was in Grade 10 at Cowichan Secondary School. It has been in our conversations for over a decade; he has aligned every decision, action and life choice for this pinnacle event in Tokyo. I am beyond proud to see him live his dream and fight for a medal.”
Kay was in middle school and just starting to fall in love with rugby when the International Olympic Committee announced that rugby sevens would be part of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, so the Olympics have been one of his main goals for a long time.
“It was always on my mind,” he said. “Sevens has been my focus for my entire adult life. This is a huge deal for me. The last year has been a whirlwind. It’s cool to see it coming together after the better part of a decade on the team.
“There have been some big moments along the way, but this has always been the drive. This has always been the goal. It hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t be the typical Olympic experience, but it will still be the pinnacle. This will be the marquee event of my career — to this point anyway. We’ll see what happens afterwards.”
Going to Tokyo will be nice, but just playing won’t be enough. Kay has bigger goals in mind once he’s there.
“I’ve had the goal for a long time of going to the Olympics, but I’ve also always had the goal of coming home with a medal.”