It was a historic night at Rio’s Deodoro Stadium for former Youth Olympic Games (YOG) athlete Charity Williams, who helped Canada win the first-ever rugby sevens medal awarded at the Olympic Games.
The 19-year-old was part of the Canadian women’s team that beat Great Britain 33-10 in the bronze medal match, shortly before Australia claimed gold against New Zealand.
For Williams, the momentous occasion comes just two years after she won silver at the YOG Nanjing 2014 – when rugby sevens made its historic debut on an Olympic programme. And the significance of the occasion was not lost on her.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” she said after the match. “I’m so happy and so proud of our team and what we’ve achieved here; it’s amazing. This is something that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. A few of us are quite young and we’ll have another Olympic Games ahead of us as well.”
One of those other young players is 20-year-old Hannah Darling, who captained the Canadian team to silver in Nanjing before joining Williams in the squad for Rio 2016.
“Being in the Youth Olympic Games was amazing, and being here again with Hannah is just breath-taking,” said Williams. “She was the first person I hugged [at the end of the match]. I’m so glad we could share this together.”
According to Williams, the experience they gained at the YOG has been a significant factor in their Rio success.
“Nanjing definitely helped us,” she said. “Hannah and I were talking about it when we first arrived here. We were saying, ‘We’ve already done this before; it’s a bigger scale, but we know what to do. We know the pressure is going to be on and we’re ready to perform’.”
But despite Williams and Darling being the only Canadian players with previous Olympic experience, their elders in the squad did not seek out advice on what to expect in Rio.
“They didn’t, no!” she said. “We have an experienced squad though, so they know what they’re doing.”
The Canadian team were backed by vociferous support in the stands of the Deodoro Stadium with hundreds of fans making the journey to Rio, including Williams’s mother.
“She was in Nanjing as well,” Williams revealed. “Having her here is really great and the support we’ve had has been incredible.”
After winning her historic bronze medal, Williams is now looking forward to enjoying her Olympic experience even more.
“We weren’t able to march in the Opening Ceremony, but we’ll definitely be at the Closing [Ceremony],” she said. “For now, I just want to hang out with my mum, celebrate this bronze medal and wear it proudly around my neck.”
Other YOG athletes taking part in the women’s rugby sevens competition included Richelle Stephens, who played six matches for the USA, and Amaia Erbina, scorer of two tries for Spain.
Sacha Valleau, meanwhile, will take the field for France in the men’s event, which starts today. The 19-year-old, who was his country’s flag bearer in Nanjing, will be hoping that France can replicate their performance in the YOG, where they beat Australia to win gold.