Fiji’s history-making skipper
After carrying his country’s flag at the Opening Ceremony at the Maracanã, Osea Kolinisau captained Fiji to a scintillating rugby sevens gold at Rio 2016, where the sport made its return to the Olympic programme after a 92-year absence.
Beyond his wildest dreams
Asked in the build-up to Rio 2016 if he had thought he would ever get to play in the Olympics, Fiji men’s rugby sevens captain Osea Kolinisau had this to say: “It never, never crossed my mind. The Olympic for me was just watching on the TV, watching the likes of Usain Bolt. Watch them run in the Olympics and after that you meet up with your friends in the afternoon and say, ‘OK, let’s race on the road and we choose a name for ourselves. I’m Maurice Greene or I’m Bolt, and we just run’.
“Or watching swimmers like Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps. You jump into the pool and you say, ‘Let’s swim’. So we try to replicate those things, but just for fun. But never, never in my wildest dream did I think I will be in the Olympics, let alone be a gold medal prospect, let alone be a flag bearer.”
Born on 17 November 1985 in the Fijian capital of Suva, Kolinisau is an out-and-out sevens player, though he did play a season of 15-a-side rugby in 2010/11, on the wing for SU Agen in France’s Top 14.
In Fiji rugby is something of an obsession and the top players enjoy rock star status. Their national team have taken the world of rugby sevens by storm over the years, lighting up the game with their flamboyant skills, searing pace and sheer physical strength, assets that have put them on a different plane to their opponents.
Kolinisau made his national team debut in 2008, before going on to become skipper. Finishing in the top-three of the World Rugby Sevens every year from 2012 onwards, Kolinisau and his team-mates lifted the world title in 2014/15 and again the following season. The skipper has had a big hand to play in Fiji’s recent success, scoring a total of 1,026 points (106 tries and 248 conversions) in 243 appearances prior to Rio 2016.
Unsurprisingly the Fijians headed to Rio as the firmest of favourites, with high hopes of winning their nation its first medal since it began sending athletes to the Olympics at Melbourne 1956.
Flying the flag
Kolinisau did not go unnoticed at the Opening Ceremony at the Maracanã on 5 August 2016. Bare-chested and dressed in traditional attire, he wore the widest of smiles as he held the Fiji flag aloft at the head of his country’s delegation.
“This opportunity comes once in a lifetime,” he later said. “We will never get an opportunity like this again to play on a world stage like the Olympics because it’s the Mecca of sports. I’m telling the boys to cherish it and give it our best and all.”
Romping to gold
Rugby was making its return to the Olympic stage in Brazil, following a 92-year absence, with the USA winning the last rugby gold when they beat France in the final at Paris 1924.
Held over three days at the Deodoro Stadium, the Rio 2016 competition was dominated by the rampant Fijians, who served up some spectacular rugby, untroubled by the weight of expectation on them. They secured gold in emphatic style, scoring five tries as they surged into a 29-0 half-time lead against Great Britain in the final, and then adding two more to clinch a 43-7 victory. Kolinisau and his team-mates greeted the final whistle with joyful celebrations. When the newly crowned champions returned home on 21 August, the people of Viti Levu and Suva lined the streets in their thousands to thank them for finally giving the island nation its first Olympic medal.