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Ryan guides Fiji to first ever Olympic medal, and it’s gold!

Loughborough University alumnus Ben Ryan guided Fiji to their first ever Olympic medal as they thrashed Great Britain to win Rugby Sevens gold.

Having never won an Olympic medal in any sport, the Fijian side travelled to Rio with their whole country expecting them to win gold, and it was the job of Ryan to keep them focussed on the job in hand.

Throughout the rounds the Pacific islanders got better and better, saving their best rugby until the final, when they showed just how good they are, sweeping aside a Great Britain side that had gone unbeaten throughout the competition.

Straight from the off the Fijians showed why they are double world champions, their free-flowing, flamboyant rugby tearing Great Britain apart in the first half, as they scored try after try without return. Despite some big tackles from another Loughborough alumnus Phil Burgess, the Brits failed to stem the flow and the halftime score read 29-0, with no way back.

Thankfully Great Britain got some points on the board in the second half, adding the conversion to take the score to 36-7. But that was as good as it got for the side in red, as Fiji scored one final try to see the game end 43-7.

"I'm smiling - it probably stops me from crying," said alumnus Ben Ryan.

"The team saved the best until last. They played some staggeringly good stuff. We wanted to showcase the way Fijian sport can be played and wanted to put smiles on everyone's faces. We made it our point that we were going to enjoy this because that's the best way we play.

“I feel very lucky that I’m in charge of such an unbelievable group of athletes that are so passionate about rugby sevens, I certainly wouldn’t have had this success if it wasn’t for them, and I’m a small part of this.”

“I try to explain it to people who’ve never been to Fiji, but it’s impossible. The boys are front-page news, back-page news, six o’clock TV news, they’re superstars. I can have an hour drive to work and see 50 villages all playing rugby, it’s the passion, and it’s the national sport. The islands won’t be having parties in sporadic parts of the country; it will be all parts of the country in every village across 350 islands. These boys come from very humble backgrounds, and I think that makes them unique.”

Massive credit must go to Great Britain though, who overcame some world class sides to make the final, winning the first ever Olympic silver medal in Rugby Sevens. Special mention must also go to alumnus Phil Burgess, who played every minute in Team GB’s medal winning campaign, as well as his fellow graduate Alex Davis who was replaced in the squad just days before the tournament due to injury.

Two Rugby Sevens medals means Loughborough now has two golds and a silver, which if we were a country would put us 14th on the medal table ahead of the likes of Spain, The Netherlands and New Zealand.

For all the latest news about Loughborough's athletes, coaches and support staff in Rio click here.

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