Robyn Love has backed Great Britain’s wheelchair basketball stars to deal with the ‘target on their backs’ in Tokyo this summer as they look to make Paralympic history.
The 30-year-old is a key member of a British side who have won silver at European and World Championships since narrowly missing out on the podium in Rio five years ago.
Such performances have raised expectations and there are hopes Love and her teammates could become the first British women to win Paralympic basketball medals.
And while a lack of competitive action over the past year makes progress tough to judge, Love believes the enforced time out of each other’s pockets has seen the squad grow in character and hopes to see the evidence this summer.
“It has been quite nice to take it back to basics,” she said. “You are never too good to work on the fundamentals and I think it’s partly what we needed.
“We were a centralised programme, we were training and playing together all day every day and you just get sick of each other – we all said it.
“That distance allows you to grow more as individuals and I feel we’ve been able to do that. Hopefully when we play together as a team again, we’ll be stronger than ever.
“Coming away with silvers in 2018 and 2019 was unbelievable and we feel there is a bit of a target on our backs.
“At the Paralympics, everyone brings their ‘A’ game – it’s nothing like the Worlds or Europeans.
“We can’t worry about what the Dutch or Germans are doing, all we can do is think about getting it right for us and focus on playing strong, fast basketball.
“We know we’ll have to bring everything we have and with the prep we’re doing, we’re going to be ready.”
Having gradually built up their training since returning to the court last September, preparations step up a notch later in April as the squad enter a bio-secure bubble in Loughborough to train against academy prospects from the men’s game.
The contests will be the first five-v-five games Love has played in since the Friendship Games in Osaka in February 2020 while the off-court restrictions are also likely to prove a useful dress rehearsal for the summer.
In that regard, the Scot is grateful for a natural advantage. She will be rooming with Laurie Williams, her teammate and fiancée – though wedding planning is taking a back seat until the summer’s action has concluded.
“Trying to plan in these times is impossible,” she said. “I have a massive family, including four sisters, and I couldn’t imagine them not being there or having to pick and choose who came.
“And if it was before the Games, we’d have to decide who’s changing their name and what will we have on the back of our vests.
“With Laurie’s last name being Williams, I’m not sure I could be Robyn Williams – the world’s already had one of those!
“We’ll concentrate on the Games and then get thinking about the wedding.”
Love is at ease with her family not being able to attend the Games due to a ban on overseas spectators, admitting she would rather they ‘commandeer a pub in Ayr’ than ‘travel halfway around the world for me to say hi and bye’.
And inspiring those watching on from the UK is high on her priority list this summer, particularly in the context of a mission to encourage more female participation in wheelchair basketball – aided by her status as one of 35 athletes in this year’s Women’s Sport Trust ‘Unlocked’ programme.
“Ninety per cent of our sport is mixed-gender and I’d like to see more chances for women and girls to train together,” she said.
“I hope to create my own women’s wheelchair basketball academy, which is not something that exists anything else in the world.
“Having the opportunity to play and train with the boys is great, as we will be doing in Loughborough, but it shouldn’t be the only option – it has the potential to discourage women wanting to get involved.
“I feel honoured to be part of ‘Unlocked’ alongside female athletes I’ve looked up to for years and it’s an incredible opportunity to drive positive change within wheelchair basketball.”