The Fijian way: The people's team delivers 1st Olympic gold
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Osea Kolinisau didn't want merely to win Fiji's first ever Olympic gold medal, he was determined to do it by showing the world how rugby sevens should be played.
Done, and done.
With his prime minister among the Fijians in the crowd, and knowing 900,000 more back in the Pacific expected nothing less than a gold medal, he kicked off a five-try, first-half barrage against Britain in the gold-medal match by reaching his arms back over his head as he was being tackled to score an early try in the corner.
The long-time entertainers of rugby sevens peaked in perfect time, running in for seven tries in a 43-7 win that showcased their fitness, finesse, physicality and the famous one-handed passing.
"It's a massive achievement to get a first medal for your country, especially a gold medal," said Kolinisau, the most-experienced Fijian ever on the international sevens circuit. "The achievement will be part of our history back home."
After ensuring the victory that had been in the making since the International Olympic Committee in 2009 added Fiji's national sport to the program for Rio de Janeiro, Kolinisau and his teammates huddled solemnly in the middle of the field and sang a hymn.
The deeply religious Fiji captain told his teammates before the match that it all was all pre-ordained, that they'd been gifted the country's best chance ever to end a six-decade medal drought at the Olympics.
"It's really emotional — to lead one's country, especially to be the flag bearer," Kolinisau said. "Coming into the final, I knew it was up for grabs. I told the boys, 'We need to have fire in our heart, but have ice in our mind — be cool-headed.'"
They were smiling by halftime, leading 29-0, and the dominance wasn't just with ball in hand — they didn't let the British players cross the halfway line while in possession.
"When these guys are on fire, it's very difficult to combat," Britain captain Tom Mitchell said. "They're very worthy champions."
Leone Nakarawa created all kinds of trouble for the British players with his sheer size and brute strength. He played a part in the leadup to a try for Jerry Tuwai, and went within a meter of scoring himself before he was dragged down in a desperate cover tackle.
Jasa Veremalua scored to make it 17-0 and the Fijians scored again directly from the kickoff when Semi Kunatani gathered the re-start and passed to Nakarawa, who sprinted away to score.
The Fijians scored twice more in the second half — the only blemish being Dan Norton's try. It seemed as if they could break the defensive line at will, and the British players were almost powerless to stop them.
Ben Ryan, the Englishman who took over as Fiji coach in 2013 and applied strict discipline to mold a naturally-talented team into a consistent, professional unit, said it was almost perfect.
"We did say we wanted to show people the way to play the Fijian way," he said. "And we were great that we delivered that in fairly spectacular fashion."
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama thanked the IOC for including rugby sevens at the Rio Games.
"We hope the brand of rugby we played today has justified the inclusion," he said. The gold "props up little tiny nations like us. We don't have the money and the bucks and support that England has — but we managed to beat them."
Bainimarama declared a public holiday — probably unnecessarily as nobody could work anyway.
"Everything stops back home," he said. "Our productivity has been nil for the last couple of days, but hopefully the GDP will go up in the next couple of days."
No. 2-ranked South Africa won the bronze medal with a 54-14 win over Japan, which produced some of the highlights of rugby's return to the Olympics with an early upset win over New Zealand.
Britain coach Simon Amor was grateful to reach the final, having held off South Africa 7-5 in the semifinals and had a close call with a golden-point extra-time win over Argentina in the quarterfinals.
There were a couple of single-digit winning margins, but nobody really got close to the Fijians.
"Wonderful that Fiji got the gold medal. Such a special team," Amor said. "First time being in the Olympics, it's probably right."