Fiji's elegant giants glide to rugby gold, first-ever Olympic medal

"When these guys are on form, they're untouchable," Britain's rugby sevens coach Simon Amor said after Fiji outclassed his team to win gold - the first-ever Olympic medal for the South Pacific island country.

The final match ended 43-7, and Fiji seemed not to be fighting but rather gliding through their opponents like a hot knife through butter.

Even though the Fijians entered the Rio de Janeiro contest as the top seeds and as double world series champions, the men reacted with great humility to their historic win.

Captain Osea Kolinisau knelt down on the pitch as the final ended.

"I was just grateful to the Lord for blessing us and giving us an opportunity for letting us play in a mega sports event like the Olympics," he said of his team, which included four players weighing 105 kilograms or above.

"I never dreamed of being an Olympian, let alone a medalist," the player from the 900,000-strong country said.

This humbleness masks the fact that rugby sevens is Fiji's national sport, and that the team already have superstar status in their country.

"These boys are on the front page, back page of newspapers, on the six o'clock news. You get out of the airport and there's a 20-foot billboard of them," their British coach Ben Ryan said.

On Thursday, the world understood why.

Starting with an early try by Kolinisau, Fiji outran, outplayed and outclassed Britain.

Britain hardly managed to bring the ball into Fiji's side as the Pacific islanders brought their score to 29-0 by half-time.

Late in the second half, Britain avoided total shame when Dan Norton scored and Marcus Watson kicked the conversion for the seven British points.

In the last minute, the Fijians sealed the historic win in their national sport with a try by Viliame Mata.

Coach Ryan explained that his tactic was that players avoid being caught up in tackles and stay on their feet.

The result was a Fijian team that effortlessly drove through enemy lines and simply pushed defenders away or ducked under them as they headed for the goalline again and again.

The audience in Rio was clearly enamored with this style and threw their weight behind Fiji, cheered on by a small but very motivated group of Fijian fans that managed to lead the whole stadium in chants.

A large man with a tattooed bare upper body, a traditional sulu skirt and large bracelets was one of the fiercest Fijian cheerleaders, standing next to another fan wearing a feather headdress.

The celebrations are set to continue back home.

"The islands won't be having parties in separate parts of the country. It will be across the entire nation and 355 islands, and it will continue for some time," Ryan said after all his players had kneeled to receive their medals from Britain's Princess Anne.

While Britain took silver, South Africa were awarded bronze after a 52-14 win against Japan, the tournament's underdog team that made it surprisingly far.

Japan had upset reigning World Cup champions and top favourites New Zealand in the first group game, and Fiji then ousted them in the quarter-finals.

Rugby returned to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924.

Last update: Thu, 25/08/2016 - 15:24
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