The “Flying Fijians” – led by former Welsh international Gareth Baber – largely beat New Zealand 27-12 in the final.
For Baber and his players, it was a strange and long journey preparing for the Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic.
“We locked them up for five months,” he told media after his team won. “They also tried to escape a few times. It’s been a really weird year since things were postponed. We were locked up in Fiji and then we went to Australia, where we quarantined ourselves for a while. some time.
“I have to pay special tribute to the players and staff who did this. They walked into training camp on Easter Monday thinking they were coming back on Friday, and on Tuesday they were told they were couldn’t go back and haven’t seen their families since. It takes a special type of person to make that commitment.
“We had containment zones established in Fiji at the start of Covid-19 in April. We were effectively locked up in Suva in a Christian hostel called St. John’s Hostel. We have received a special waiver to continue our rugby training. We built a gym, mostly in the hostel garage, and stayed there for about 12 weeks. In fact, when players return and quarantine, it will be about 20 weeks since they were with their families. We had huge support in Fiji. “
Ben Ryan, the coach of Fiji when they won gold in 2016, took to Twitter to congratulate the team.
“And a word about Gareth Baber. I know better than anyone the pressure he will have been under. Hard to explain to non-Fijians, but it would have been huge and he handled it brilliantly. Amazing job,” Ryan continued. .
The sport made its 2016 Summer Games debut at the Rio Olympics, meaning the Fiji team are now unbeaten in the Olympic rugby sevens competition.
Meli Derenalagi, Sireli Maqala, Jiuta Wainiqolo and Asaeli Tuivuaka scored Fiji’s four tries in Wednesday’s final, and his players gathered to celebrate at the final whistle.
Winning the gold medal clearly meant a lot to many players, but none more than Tuivuaka and Josua Vakurinabuli, both of whom paid tribute to their family members lost after their victory.
“My brother and my father passed away when I was little. I am so lucky to represent them,” Tuivuaka said. “My mother sacrificed a lot for me. I grew up in a family of rugby players, which gave me a lot of motivation to keep working hard, so that I can achieve it. Maybe the first thing when I phone at home (tonight) I’ll give them a big ‘vinaka’ (thank you). “
For Vakurinabuli, who is a prison warden returning to Fiji, he had to make many sacrifices to reach the top.
“My dad passed away last year. So playing rugby at the Olympics is for my dad and my family,” he said. “People are struggling in Fiji and we played this game for them. Everyone in Fiji will be proud of their village.
“I’m a home prison warden. I was working hard during the pandemic doing night and day shifts. I have a little boy who is one year old and I haven’t seen him for four months. C it’s hard for me but it gives me the strength to think about my boy and my dad. This gold medal is for them. ”
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