If there’s one thing you should know about Fiji heading into the Rio Olympics—well, besides the country’s beautiful beaches, bottled water, and propensity for military coups—it’s that the South Pacific archipelago of roughly 800,000 people is ridiculously good at seven-a-side rugby.
Just how good? Coming into the USA Sevens rugby tournament held in Las Vegas in March, Fiji’s national team had to travel while dealing with the news of Cyclone Winston wreaking havoc back home. Then a virus swept through the squad, which left four players vomiting, one waylaid entirely, and two on an all-crisps diet for three days. On the first day of the tournament, they missed breakfast and their pre-game ice baths, got stuck in traffic on the way to Sam Boyd Stadium, and then were upset 28-24 by regional rival Samoa, a loss that snapped Fiji’s record for consecutive wins in the pool stages of international sevens events.
Yet despite what Fiji coach Ben Ryan described as a “plane crash” of a start, his team won the tournament, just as they did the previous year.
“Vegas probably has more distractions than any other tournament in the series,” Ryan said after the team won the cup final 21-15 against Australia. “Just the venue alone doesn’t suit international sport. I don’t mean the stadium, but just the gambling, the city, the jet lag, everything else. To win back-to-backs here shows that we deal with distractions pretty well.”