Loughborough graduate Ben Ryan is hoping to make sporting history by guiding Fiji Rugby Sevens to the country's first ever Olympic medal
"I still use things that I learnt in my first and second year of undergraduate study on an almost daily basis – they’re some of my key values.”
Ryan hoping to guide Fiji to maiden gold in Rio
Fiji have never won an Olympic medal in any sport.
Compare that to Great Britain, who have won 780 summer Olympic medals since The Games’ inception back in 1896, and it’s a stark contrast.
Based on that, former England coach Ben Ryan wouldn’t be a phenomenon if he were to win an Olympic medal with Team GB in Rio, as special as it would be. But should he guide Fiji Rugby Sevens to glory in the Deodoro Stadium, his status as a Fijian national hero would be yet further heightened.
For Ryan, who has guided Fiji 7s to back-to-back World Series titles, getting asked for multiple selfies when popping to the shop for milk is common place. That is in part down to being the ‘only ginger man’ living on the pacific island, but more because of what he has done for sport in the country.
Ryan’s journey started at Loughborough University, where he enrolled as a rugby player and left with a Sports Science degree and a passion for coaching.
“Loughborough had a huge influence on my career as you’re just surrounded by so many people working at the very highest level, and you feel as though you’re in this special place where you’ve got a little bit more information on things than others.
“Loughborough is a bit of bubble, in that the very best in sport operate here and so you gain that desire and understanding of what it takes to win. I still use things that I learnt in my first and second year of undergraduate study on an almost daily basis – they’re some of my key values.”
After a five year spell that saw him become the longest serving England Rugby Sevens coach of all-time, Ryan took up a new challenge of managing Fiji in September 2013. Coming from an elite sporting environment at the RFU, his setup in the southern hemisphere couldn't have been much different – in fact Ryan went without pay for his first six months in charge.
But the project was an exciting one, working with some of the rawest, most undertrained yet athletic sportsmen in the world. Add to that the fact that Rugby Sevens is one of the highest intensity, edge of your seat sports in the world, and you have a something very special.
“International sevens is highly volatile; you really can’t be sure day-to-day, minute-to-minute, who’s going to win. The fastest and some of the most gifted rugby players in the world play sevens, so from a coach’s point of view it’s an amazing challenge.
“We do play high risk, but we practice it! With Fiji, we arguably have the highest risk, most flamboyant sports team in the world. We score more points than anyone else and we’re unpredictable, and that’s what makes us a danger.”
So the goal in Rio is a pretty obvious one.
“Although Fiji have never won an Olympic medal, silver and bronze is not good enough for the sevens team. Winning that medal at the Olympic Games would create a legacy that would hopefully create a ripple effect throughout sport in the pacific.
“I would hope a gold medal would see people think, ‘these guys have done this in rugby and they’ve come from the same background as me, so why can’t I do it in another sport?’.”