Tyla Nathan-Wong: Loss in Rio a driving force for gold in Tokyo

Tyla Nathan-Wong of New Zealand kicks a conversion during the match between New Zealand and People's Republic of China at the 2020 Hamilton Sevens on January 25, 2020 (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Tyla Nathan-Wong of New Zealand kicks a conversion during the match between New Zealand and People's Republic of China at the 2020 Hamilton Sevens on January 25, 2020 (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Zealand's loss to Australia in the Rio 2016 rugby sevens gold medal match will be a driving force for the team at next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

"It's been there this little simmering flame ever since the last Olympics were we fell short," Tyla Nathan-Wong said during her Olympic Day workout.

The 25-year-old was part of New Zealand's silver medal winning side at Rio, were an intense battle between the long-time trans-Tasman sporting rivals eventually saw Australia win gold in a 24-17 victory.

"It was a pretty close game. It has been 100 per cent one of the driving factors for all of us especially for those of us who had been there."

Sharni Williams of Australia celebrates victory as Portia Woodman, Kelly Brazier and Tyla Nathan-Wong of New Zealand look dejected after the Women's Gold Medal Final Rugby Sevens match (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Sharni Williams of Australia celebrates victory as Portia Woodman, Kelly Brazier and Tyla Nathan-Wong of New Zealand look dejected after the Women's Gold Medal Final Rugby Sevens match (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Since their Rio 2016 campaign, New Zealand has won two World Rugby Sevens Series (2016-17 and 2018-19) titles, gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games - beating Australia in a memorable match - and were crowned World Champions after defeating France at the 2018 World Cup.

And as it stood they were set to retain the World Series title until the 2019-20 season came to a halt with just three rounds left.

The team, which features all but one player from Rio 2016, will also have to wait another year before they get their chance to go for Olympic gold once again.

"When it was announced all of us here were pretty guttered," Nathan-Wong said.

"All of us Olympians, we're working and sacrificing four long years.

"We would've been in Tokyo now or over there in Japan somewhere doing those final preps (sic.) leading into it so it does set up back but at the same time to hear that it was postponed and not cancelled was pretty amazing."

Despite the postponement of the Games until the summer of 2021, the excitement is still there.

"I'm still excited and the goal is the same at the end."

"We are use to in our sport having to adapt to different situations so it's just another challenge for us to learn and adapt from and continue to grow mentally stronger each and everyday."

Growth of women's rugby

"It's pretty great to see where the women's game is going, not only in New Zealand but worldwide," Nathan-Wong said.

"Ever since the Olympics, the sport blew up especially the women's side."

In New Zealand, women's rugby has become one of the fastest growing sports.

In 2017, almost one in six registered players in New Zealand were female meanwhile globally the following year there was a 28 per cent rise in registered female players.

"The more I think women's sport gets talked about in media, gets televised, all that kind of stuff the better it is for female athletes."

What mentally strong means?

Throughout the last four months #StayStrong has been used across social media at show how athletes are connecting with people and are serving as sources of inspiration and hope during the uncertain period.

And Nathan-Wong believes being strong can mean many different things.

"Some people think it's just being physically strong but I think strength also comes from being vulnerable and not being afraid to open up if you're going through something hard or just to express your emotions. I think that's just as important."

She highlighted the efforts of teammate Portia Woodman.

The 2017 Women's Sevens Player of the Year had been out of the national team for over 12 months due to an Achilles injury before she made her return at the Oceania Sevens in November last year.

"The inner strength she has shown, the mental strength she has shown over these two years...I give her full credit and I can't wait to see her back out on the field when we both head up to Northland to play some club rugby."