The match that stopped Fiji

Gold medallists Fiji celebrate after the medal ceremony for the Men's Rugby Sevens at the Rio 2016 Olympics (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Gold medallists Fiji celebrate after the medal ceremony for the Men's Rugby Sevens at the Rio 2016 Olympics (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it.

The background

Fiji had participated in almost every Olympic Games since Melbourne 1956 but had yet to bring home an Olympic medal.

With rugby 7s making its debut at the Rio 2016 Games, Fiji had a chance to create history. The national men's team were fresh off the back-to-back World Rugby Sevens Series titles and they were the team to beat heading into Rio.

So there was pressure on the team to with the Pacific Island nations' first Olympic medal.

History in the making

As Fiji entered the Maracanā Stadium, rugby 7s team captain Osea Kolinsau, who was the flag bearer, led the largest delegation in the nation's Olympic history with 54 athletes.

The competition got underway at the Deodoro Stadium where Fiji showed why were the team to beat for the gold medal. They were one of just two teams, the other being Great Britain, to remain undefeated throughout their three pool matches.

They continued their dominance first seeing off close rivals New Zealand in the quarter-finals then Japan in the semi-finals - where they guaranteed themselves a medal and a spot in the final where they would face Great Britain.

The match was played at 10 a.m. Friday in Fiji so most businesses decided to close to allow their employees to watch. In the capital Suva, the national rugby stadium was filled with 15,000 people watching the match on a large screen meanwhile schools also had broadcast the game for their students.

It was literally the match that stopped the nation.

And Fiji's men's rugby team didn't disappoint as they triumphed in an epic 43-7 victory after completely dominating possession and running in five tries in the first half.

Celebrations erupted not just inside the Deodoro Stadium but across Fiji's islands as history had been made.

Fiji had become the first Pacific Island nation to secure Olympic gold.

"I was just thankful to the lord for blessing us and giving us an opportunity to win in a mega-sport arena like the Olympics," Kolinisau said in a press conference after the history making win.

"I never dreamed of being an Olympian, let alone being a medallist, let alone being a gold medallist. So I was just thankful to up above for the journey God has brought me on."

However, one of the most powerful and unforgettable moments from the Games came when the team huddled together on the field. With their eyes closed and they sung the hymn is called “E Da Sa Qaqa” which translates to “We Are Winners Because Of This World”.

Fiji players and staff huddle as they win gold after the Men's Rugby Sevens Gold medal final match between Fiji and Great Britain on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Fiji players and staff huddle as they win gold after the Men's Rugby Sevens Gold medal final match between Fiji and Great Britain on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
2016 Getty Images

Life-changing impact

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced a public holiday for 22 August - the day the team was set to arrive back from Rio. Bainimarama himself had attended all three days of the Rio 2016 rugby 7s competition, choosing to sit in the stands along with Fiji fans instead of staying at the VIP area.

Large parts of the nation came to a standstill to mark the return of the squad with thousands lining the streets of Nadi.

As the team arrived at Prince Charles Park, they received a standing ovation from the almost 18,000 tightly packed crowd who clapped, danced and sang in jubilation.

Since the win, Olympic winning head coach Ben Ryan, who has been credited with instilling discipline in the side, stepped down from his role in 2017.

Following on from their Olympic gold, Fiji continued to be one of the top nations in men's rugby 7s. Last season they re-captured their World Series title which secured their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Games, where they will defend their Olympic crown.