(ATR) They had the hopes and expectations of a whole nation on their shoulders, and Fiji didn’t disappoint – winning their first ever Olympic medal, gold in the rugby sevens.
Taking down Great Britain 43-7 in the final, Fiji didn’t just win, they made a statement to the world.
The players will be elevated from heroes to gods – there’s talk of a national holiday being declared in the small Oceania nation that has a population of just 900,000.
Rugby sevens is a fast, exciting, athletic – a truly global sport – and it has won the hearts of many new fans at its Olympic debut in Rio.
Showing just how global the spread of talent is in the sport, the men’s finals featured countries from four continents – an aspect that will bode well for the sport in future discussions of Olympic inclusion.
Around 300 members of the rugby and wider Olympic family joined World Rugby to celebrate the sport's Olympic return at two functions held this week at the Olympians Reunion Centre by EY.
Special guests included former IOC president Jacques Rogge and former World Rugby president Bernard Lapasset. Head of the international body from 2008 to 2016, Lapasset was one of the driving forces behind rugby’s reinstatement in the Olympics and described seeing it happen in Rio as a dream come true.
"It’s a fantastic achievement for rugby," he said.
"Internationally it is probably one of the most important moment’s in the sports history. It’s great to see the really high quality of the games and to see the support of rugby. For the women, it was fantastic to see the clash between Australia and New Zealand and I am sure this game has inspired a whole new generation of players all over the world."
Speaking at the event, current World Rugby president Bill Beaumont was elated at the discipline’s successful Olympic debut.
"We are honored and proud to be back on sport's greatest stage and what a return it has been," he said.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed the amazing men's and women's tournaments…and have been treated to superb sevens at its exciting and dynamic best.
"They have also showed just why we believed that rugby would be good for the Games and the Games good for rugby."
Speaking to the athletes he said:
"To all our players – congratulations and thank you – you are now officially Olympians. Our first Olympians in 92 years. How good does that feel? You have made your families, nations and your sport very proud. You have made friends around the world...you have made history...and you have inspired a new generation to play rugby."
It was important first of all for the sport to be successful in Rio," Lapasset said.
"It was fantastic this time and I am sure it will be wonderful again in Tokyo in four years’ time. To see the Japanese men go through to the finals is really important and will be great for the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 and then for the Olympics in 2020."
Written by Alice Wheeler in Rio de Janeiro.
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