Fiji’s story: Big men, bigger hearts

It’s been over a week since the behemoth Fiji Rugby Sevens group captured the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal at the Rio Games and the scale of their feat is only becoming fully apparent now.

As the Olympics draw to a close, we reflect on one of the more extraordinary narratives that came out of Brazil.

Fiji beat Great Britain 43-7 in the final to win the inaugural men’s Rugby Sevens competition and finish the event unbeaten.

Their journey to the gold medal match was not an easy one.

In the group stages they were forced to overcome fiery challenges from Argentina and the USA. In the quarter-finals they edged out global rugby powerhouse New Zealand. In the semi-finals a skillful and tactically astute Japanese side proved no match.

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The sheer size of the men who made up the Fijian squad was breathtaking, their approach to the game was more so.

While other teams cowered under the immense pressure of competing in The Olympics and consequently opted to play safe by kicking ball away and turning to solid defensive structures and opposition mistakes to get them over the line, Fiji were fearless in their brave, fast-paced, pill-in-hand attitude- however many tries you score, we’ll score more.

All their players were magnificent. Captain Osea Kolinisau stood out though. His ferocious tackling, silky handling, devastating carrying and assured leadership was quite sublime.

Josua Tuisova was not half-bad either. One could not help but feel the power he displayed with and without ball throughout could have seen him enter the weightlifting competition at the conclusion of the rugby final and claim Fiji’s second ever gold there.

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Admittedly Fiji entered the tournament as favourites. However, that should not detract from the enormity of their achievement. They handled that pressure superbly well.

Furthermore, the country does not have the funds or facilities that others do. A brief look at the size of their coaching staff was one of many indicators of this.

As a result of being coached by Ben Ryan, a man who hails from Fiji’s former colonial ruler, many felt that the group might split when it mattered most and they were under the pump. Trailing at halftime against New Zealand the opposite happened though. Ryan spoke calmly but meaningfully at the break and was able to unite the group and draw a winning reaction from his players.

The island of Fiji is small. Great Britain is made up of a population of 64.1 million people. Fiji has just 900’000. Those numbers create further perspective of how great this medal is.

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Nelson Mandela once said that ‘sport has the power to change the world.’

That quote could not be more relevant when attempting to understand the significance of Fiji’s gold medal.

As the country continues to deal with the devastating after effects of Cyclone Winstone that killed more than 40 people and left many more homeless in February of this year, the Sevens team gave them something to smile and party about. And boy, did they party.

“The whole country has gone crazy,” said Maikele Seru after the final, deputy sports editor of the Fiji Times.

“Nobody is working, now we are just waiting for the team to come home, people are saying when the team get back the government should declare a national holiday.”

Declare a national holiday the government did. And while that day that has since passed, the memories never will, not for Fiji or the world. And it’s all because of those big men, with even bigger hearts.

Penned by Zac Elkin

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