Fiji’s First Gold: Rugby Sevens Debut in Rio

Fiji wins gold

Rugby Sevens can be fast and furious. But the first seven minutes of the Rugby Sevens final at the 2016 Rio Olympics was much faster and more furious than Team GB could have ever have wanted.

In 55 seconds, Fiji’s scored its first try. Two and a half minutes later, Fiji got its second, and suddenly were up 12-0. A few minutes later, they’re up 17-0. They would race to a 27-0 lead at the end of the 10-minute first half, and go on to finish off Great Britain 43-7, making the first Rugby Sevens debut at the Olympics a memorable one.

For people like me, rugby is an unknown. Born in New York City, my sports mindshare was filled to capacity with MLB baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball and NHL hockey. The New York area alone has 10 professional sports teams in those four sports domains.

With so much happening in sports in the Big Apple, I personally have little bandwidth for college sports, let alone soccer, rugby, or cricket. But every four years at the Olympics, I get to increase my sports acumen and enjoy excellence at the highest levels in other sporting disciplines. I also learned that Fiji, despite the fact that the island nation had never won a medal in the Olympics, was expected to win gold at Rio.

Sure, Fiji is a very strong team. They have won the Hong Kong Sevens international tournament more times than another country since its inception in 1976 – twelve times – and were the reigning World Rugby Seven Series champions. And yet, Fijians and the Fiji team understood that the Olympics put them under the microscope of the entire world, observed by both super fan and casual fan alike.

Fijians Celebrate

As quoted in this South China Morning Post article, the British coach of the Fiji Rugby Sevens team, Ben Ryan, has seen the passion Fiji citizens have for their rugby. “I can have an hour drive to work and see 50 villages all playing rugby, it’s the passion, it’s the national sport, the islands won’t be having parties in sporadic parts of the country, it will be all parts of the country in every village across 350 islands.”

But like an idea whose time has come, Fiji fulfilled the dreams of a nation. “It’s history in the making, first gold medal in the Olympics and we’re all proud to be Fijians,” said Fiji prime minister, Frank Bainimarama. “They’re all celebrating [in Fiji] – in fact they’ve been celebrating for the last three days.”

In the same article, Fiji captain, Osea Lolinisau, was trying to come to grips with reality. “It’s a massive achievement to get a first medal for your country – I told the boys on the podium, ‘Is this really happening, are we really gold medal winners? “We’ll probably wake up tomorrow, it will dawn on us – this achievement will be part of our history back home.”

Watch here for the match.