12 Aug 2016
Ryan guides Fiji to first ever Olympic medal, and it’s gold!
Loughborough University alumnus Ben Ryan guided Fiji to their first every 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.
University graduate Jonny Walton and his partner John Collins put in a brave performance on Lake Lagoa to finish fifth in the final of the men’s double sculls earlier in the day. The duo had to bounce back from a below par row in the heat a few days ago, struggling in the choppy conditions, but they got better as the rounds went on and were happy to make the Olympic final.
Having to contest the repechage to secure a semi-final spot when all of their rivals qualified automatically possibly hurt the British duos medal chances, but in reality fifth was a good result at the start of their careers.
Post event Walton said:
“We came 5th at the Olympics. We would have liked a medal but it’s a good result and we can both be very proud. This is only the start really, our first Olympics, so we can leave with our heads held high.”
“We are really proud of what we have achieved here. The only thing we could have asked of ourselves is to go out there and put everything down we possibly could and I think we did that in the last two races.
“I can honestly say that I think we have been beaten by crews that are better than us. Obviously we don’t like it but we can accept it more than being people that we know we can beat. Of course we would’ve loved a medal but this is a great result and we can just get better and better over the next four years. We are still improving and that is the best thing about our partnership.”
Having qualified second fastest for the K1 Canoe Slalom final, Fiona Pennie couldn’t quite get her hands on some silverware at her second Olympic Games. The Loughborough alumnae clipped two gates early on putting herself under a lot of pressure, which ultimately told.
“I was hoping for something akin to my first run. I knew that the other girls before me had done quick times and I had to stick to my plan from before. I wasn’t trying to do anything special, just going for the same thing. I knew there were a lot of big names in the final, they’ve all had tremendous results over the years, but you can’t really think about that when you’re on the start line. You just think about the poles and the water you’re about to go down.
“I knew [after hitting the first pole] that it was going to be quite tough to get away from, but I can be a quick paddler, so I kept to the same plan. I was quick through the middle section, but lost a bit of time into the upright above the drop, and unfortunately that tail touch was enough to kill it off.
“You aim to get into the final and see what happens there. You have to give it your all in the final and I feel like I did that. I couldn’t have done anything more in the lead up to the race. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the result at the end.”
Molly Renshaw produced the second fastest swim of her life to finish sixth in the women’s 200m breaststroke final, just half a second outside a medal. Having broken the British record in the semi-finals, Renshaw knew she would be in the shake up for the minor medals, but she couldn’t quite bring it home down the final 50m.
“I’m over the moon with that to be fair. My aim coming into this was to make the final. I’ve managed to do that and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way. I guess I was a lot more nervous coming into the final and I guess that got the better of me coming down that last length. But I’m still happy with that. It was a massive personal best [the day before] so to only be half a second off that again is my second fastest time.
“I’ve learned to enjoy it. I’ve gone in thinking about the process and not about the outcome and I think that’s what got me into the final. Missing out on London 2012 pushed me for these past four years so being so close this year will definitely push me for Tokyo 2020.
“As I was walking down, Mel [Marshall] said to me, you didn’t get this chance four years ago so just get out there and take it. She’s right. Four years ago I was sat at home crying because I wasn’t there.”
The Irish Hockey team, containing alumni John Jackson and Paul Gleghorne finally got a win on the board, beating Canada 4-2 in a match they dominated. With that, a win against Argentina on Friday would see them into the quarter-finals.
Loughborough alumna Nicola White got on the score sheet for the second time this Olympics as Team GB continued their winning run in the women’s hockey. Taking on Japan, the side led 1-0 for most of the game before White finally put the result beyond doubt with five minutes to go. Maddie Hinch was pleased to keep a clean sheet, whilst her fellow alumnae Giselle Ansley, Hannah MacLeod and Laura Unsworth were also involved once more, the latter singled out for praise by Head Coach Danny Kerry. Their next game is against the USA at 10pm on Saturday night, which will decide who tops Group B.
Finnish badminton graduate Nanna Vainio also got her Olympic campaign underway on Thursday in the women’s singles. Up against Carolina Marin of Spain, Vainio was beaten 2-0, but she’ll have a second bite of the cherry against fellow Scandinavian Line Kjærsfeldt tomorrow.