Can we accomplish the same feat in Tokyo

Leone Nakarawa is congratulated by his teammates after winning the final at the Rio Olympics. Picture: FILE

As we countdown days and hours for the men’s sevens rugby competition in the Olympics, there has been only  one question in the minds of all rugby lov- ing fans, can we repeat the same feat as in  Rio.

In this COVID-19 ravaged world, the Olympics, which was supposed to be held last year, was deferred to this year with  organisers under heavy scrutiny for con- tinuing to defy advice from experts for re- commencing, as this could easily become a  super spreader event.

Though it’s a dream for any athlete to take part in Olympics with winning medal  always a bonus and a milestone achievement by any measure.  Ironically, there are contrasting realities between this Tokyo games and those  Olympics of the past as athletes had to endure a rocky ride against the backdrop of  an unfolding COVID-19 crisis leading up to this games.

However, the athletes remain poised to be part of this momentous occasion as these events could be the biggest moments in their lives and careers. Likewise, our men’s national sevens team have also been tasked to win the back to back gold medals, as we set our sights on defending the title. Reminiscing the triumph in Rio While we prepare for the showdown in Tokyo, we reminisce our triumph in Rio, of how a tiny nation became the Olympic rugby champion.

Remembering the heroes of 2016, Apisai, Jasa, Tuisova, Taliga, Nakarawa, Viriviri, Rawaca, Kunatani, Jerry, Vatemo, Mata,  Dakuwaqa and not forgetting captain courageous Osea, who all had made a name for  themselves in the history books,, as the first players to be part of the winning gold medal team.  In the 2016 gold medal match, our sevens team proved to be too strong for Team  Great Britain as they had stamped their mark early and never let their guards down.

By the end of fi rst half with Fiji leading 29-0, we were almost certain that the gold  medal was homecoming.  Subsequently, as the fi nal whistle sound- ed, the fans were on a new level of euphoria  with rejoicing and singing that the long wait was over. But it was outstandingly another man, who was at the heart of everything, the English coach, Peni Rayani (Ben Ryan)  who was on cloud nine for building a win- ning combination and carving his name in  the annals of history.

What a moment it was for Fiji as we had been yearning for this for so many years. In the history of the games, this was our only medal and that too gold.  The celebration was epic when the players arrived in the country as singing and  celebration had continued for some time. There were ecstatic scenes as the team made the way from Nadi airport to Suva.

These sights will forever be etched in the memory of the fans.  There was an outpouring of congratulatory messages from every corner of the  world because they knew what it meant to us, especially this also came at time when the country was recuperating from the catastrophic effects of Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston. Since then, to commemorate our win, coins have been issued in public with many stories written and videos made on the success of the team.

In essence, a dream became reality. Strengths As we build up to defend our gold medal in Tokyo, there has been some good vibes  amongst players, though circumstances under which the players had to prepare was quite disconcerting. Jerry Tuwai, the lone survivor from Rio, has a huge burden on his shoulders to guide the team. Fiji has always been labeled as gold standards in sevens rugby.

As we set the benchmark and others fol- low.  We may not have had the best of the best preparations prior to this tournament,  but the whole world knows that Fijian sevens rugby is greatly admired around the  planet and players are capable of beating any team on their day.  Interestingly, the sevens team also received a major boost and elevated their  chances of winning after the inclusion of dual rugby international Semi Radradra in the team. Radradra, a marquee player who is a  great asset to the team, is always exhila- rating to watch with ball in hand.

His timely addition to the team will shift some burden from Jerry’s shoulders as he will provide much needed support to the younger players in the team. Challenges COVID-19 pandemic has impeded the team’s preparation to a very large extent,  as not having enough game time and oper- ating in their bubble only to a name few.  To add their misery, they had to over- come emotional challenges of not able to  meet their family members due to COV- ID-19 restrictions.  Furthermore, stories and images of  their own people in dire situations must have had serious impact on their mental health.

These preparations with surreal experience would have been first time for the  players, and would have required them to dig deep to get the better of this mental anguish. If winning a gold medal is an amazing feat, then defending it will also demand greater effort. As defending champions it will always be added pressure on the team. With proven track record of incredible success in sevens rugby and the win in  Oceania sevens, we may be holding the favourites tag.

On the fl ip side, tournaments are not won by being favourites, but through sheer hard work and commitment. What will a win mean? Despite the long road to Olympics, the hype has been building on. As we wait in anticipation, there is an air of excitement that our gladiators can accomplish the same feat in Tokyo.

A win will attest the effort, hard work and the enormous sacrifices put up by our players, as this will inspire many in the country, who are going through tough times.

Ben Ryan’s successor, Gareth Baber, an- other man of English origins, has big shoes  to fill as he maps out the plan to vanquish his new challenge. He may be well aware of what it takes to  win tournaments as he has had some successes with the team though the challenge  this time will be quite different.

A win will unite everyone in Fiji to stand in solidarity to fight this pandemic and bring back smiles on people’s faces, but this will be by no means an easy feat.

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