#360view: Ryan’s vision has helped Fiji rise to the top

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Fiji.

From Lautoka to Suva in the southern tip of the country, Fiji was sent into pandemonium as their men’s sevens team clinched a historic Olympic gold medal. People celebrated wildly on the streets and some businesses even closed temporarily to allow their employees watch the crowning moment as Fiji secured a first medal in 14 attempts at the Summer Games.

The victory gives the South Pacific Island of 881,000 a significant boost as the country still recovers from a cyclone that left 44 people dead and thousands homeless in February, including some of the players.

Coming to the big match, what impressed was the manner in which they brushed aside Great Britain in the final, scoring five unanswered tries to open up a commanding half-time lead. They duly upped the intensity in the second-half to win 43-7, with captain Osea Kolinisau showing glimpses of his terrific pace and ability to disrupt GB at the set piece.

Dominating from the outset of the tournament – where they were heavily tipped for glory – Fiji never looked in fear of being beaten, seeing off the challenges of Argentina, USA, New Zealand, Japan and then GB with ease.

At the helm of the team is Ben Ryan who will step down later this year after three years as head coach.

When the Englishman arrived in 2013, he was tasked with bringing a winning mentality to the South Pacific Island, developing the skillset and workrate to these naturally gifted athletes, some of whom first learnt how to play rugby using plastic bottles and flip-flops as balls.

He trains the team until they can’t run anymore and instructs his players to run at their opponents hard and fast, something that was evident during the Olympics when the Fijians looked unstoppable with ball in hand.

With two World Series titles and an Olympic gold medal to his name three years later, Ryan’s left a great legacy behind, achieving success that will be difficult to match going forward.

Sevens has left a positive mark in its first year as an Olympic event with its fast and exciting games making easy viewing for new fans

One of the critical decisions Ryan made in the build-up to Rio was the omission of Jarryd Hayne. The former rugby league star and San Francisco 49ers running back trained with the team for a year prior to the games, and was heavily tipped to be a key man for Fiji in Brazil.

For anyone who’s watched Hayne in action, leaving a man of his calibre out was a courageous decision by Ryan and further underlines the quality and talent in this glittering squad.

To watch players like Vaterno Ravouvo, Viliame Mata, Semi Kunatani and Leone Nakarawa sweep past opponents with ease and deliver deft passes is a joy as a rugby enthusiast. It’s not only their supreme fitness and skill levels, but also their intelligence on and off the ball that stands out.

Nakarawa, in particular, embodies this colossal spirit. Three years ago, he was nearly denied a chance to play full-time rugby when Glasgow Warriors came chasing his signature. He didn’t fill out the proper paperwork when leaving the military and was brought into custody. A deal was made. If he led the Army team to victory in an important game they’d let him leave. He did, and has since developed into one of Fiji’s poster boys for rugby union and sevens.

As far as the event is concerned, sevens has left a positive mark in Rio in its first year as an Olympic event with its fast and exciting games making easy viewing for new fans. With fewer rules and each half only seven minutes, the sport has the ability to engage people whose interest in rugby may not be strong.

To have an event like this included in the Olympics gives these players a stage to demonstrate their vast array of skills and superb talents, especially Fiji whose national sport is sevens rugby.

With two World titles and an Olympic gold in three years, Fiji are an unassailable force in sevens and if they continue to operate at this towering level they’ll be difficult to stop at Tokyo 2020.

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Arab swimmers shine in 50m freestyle heats

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Nada Al Bedwawi.

Nada Al Bedwawi became the first Emirati female swimmer to compete at the Olympics on Friday after taking part in the 50m freestyle heats at the Aquatics Stadium in Rio.

Al Bedwawi, the UAE’s flag-bearer during the Olympics opening ceremony, clocked 33.42 seconds to place third in her heat, behind Myanmar’s Ei Ei Thet and Bahrain’s Fatema Al Mahmeed.

The 19-year-old was competing in Rio via a wildcard invitation and is thrilled to be blazing a trail for young Emirati woman.

“I feel good, I did my best and I’m proud of what I did,” Al Bedwawi told Sport360 after her swim.

“I really hope to come back to the UAE and pave the way for more Emirati swimmers.

“I have so many plans on how to achieve that and hopefully I can execute them.”

The 50 free saw the largest Arab participation at a swimming event this week in Rio.

Egypt’s Farida Osman missed out on the semi-finals by a mere 0.09sec, placing 18th overall – the top 16 advance – with an impressive new African record and personal best time of 24.91.

Kuwait’s Faye Sultan, competing under the Olympic flag due to her nation’s suspension, clocked 26.86 to win her heat.

Sultan was the first-ever female swimmer to represent Kuwait when she took part in the 50 free in London 2012.

Morocco’s Noura Mana was fourth in Sultan’s heat with a 28.20.Syrian Bayan Juma and Jordan’s Talita Baqlah faced off in the sixth heat.

Juma placed fourth with a 26.41 while Baqlah smashed the Jordanian national record, finishing fifth with a 26.48.​

“I’m so happy to swim a new personal best,” Baqlah was quoted as saying by Jordan Olympic Committee’s official website.

“I feel like this is a message to every young girl in Jordan who wishes to take up a sport, that she should work hard and do everything possible to accomplish her dream.

“I only found out I was competing in Rio last month, so I didn’t have too much time to prepare. I feel like I’ve achieved a small part of what I was hoping for.”

Palestine’s Miri Al Atrash and Sudan’s Haneen Ibrahim also took to the pool in the event. Al Atrash clocked 28.76 while Ibrahim swam a time of 36.23.

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Ayana breaks world record to win 10,000m gold

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Almaz Ayana celebrates winning the Women's 10,000 Meters Final.

Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana brushed off doping suspicions about her astonishing world record-breaking Olympic 10,000m victory here Friday, attributing her performance to hard work and religious devotion.

The 24-year-old smashed one of the longest-held records in athletics as she romped to victory in an electrifying start to the Rio Olympics track and field competition.

Ayana’s winning time of 29min 17.45sec sliced nearly 14 seconds off the previous world best of 29:31.78 set by Wang Junxia in 1993 during the era of notorious Chinese coach Ma Junren.

The astounding display immediately raised eyebrows in the athletics world, with British women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe one of the first to remark upon the Ethiopian’s performance.

“I’m not sure I can understand that,” Radcliffe said. “When I saw the world record set in 1993 I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And Ayana has absolutely blitzed that time.”

Yet Ayana — who had only raced the 10,000m once before heading into the Olympics — smiled when asked to respond to suggestions that her performance might not be all that it seemed.

“I praise the lord, the lord gives me everything,” she said through an interpreter.

“My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus — otherwise I’m crystal clear.”

Ayana’s victory comes in a troubled year for Ethiopian distance running after the International Association of Athletics Federations in March placed the country in “critical care” with four other nations over failures in their anti-doping regimes.

Two Ethiopian runners also failed dope tests, with Tokyo Marathon winner Endeshaw Negesse testing positive for meldonium.

Ayana’s win ended the Olympic gold medal hat-trick hopes of her compatriot and defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba.

Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya took silver in a new national record of 29:32.53 while Dibaba won bronze in a personal best 29:42.56.

Dibaba had been bidding to become the first woman in history to win three consecutive golds in an individual athletics event.

But instead it was the 31-year-old’s younger compatriot who stole the show with a magnificent performance.

Kenya’s Alice Aprot had been the early front-runner, quickly leading a group of eight runners that broke away from a giant 37-strong field.

But with 12 laps to go Ayana hit the front, accelerating clear to stretch the leading pack.

Cheruiyot went with Ayana but was always struggling to stay in touch, and the closing laps quickly became a race against the clock and a question of whether Ayana could beat Wang’s mark.

With the stadium roaring her home, Ayana scorched home with a 68sec final lap to claim gold.

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