There are homecomings — and then there’s the welcome afforded Fiji’s all-conquering Olympic heroes.
“We knew it was going to be crazy but not this crazy,” Fiji’s rugby sevens captain Captain Osea Kolinisau told journalists as the country’s heroes returned home from Rio Sunday with a Bank Holiday having been declared in their honor for the following day.
Thousands lined the streets as Fiji’s gold medalists — the first time the Pacific Islanders had won an Olympic medal of any color — touched down after their heroics.
Fiji’s men’s team was one of the stories of Rio 2016, living up to its tag as favorite while producing a brand of thrilling rugby which entertained a whole new audience.
As the team coach negotiated roads filled with well wishers in Nadi and then capital city Suva, the enormity of the team’s achievement became clear.
Speaking to CNN before heading home, Kolinisau said the team’s victory at the first ever rugby sevens event to be held at the Olympics was something which would stay with him for the rest of his life.
“The nation is going nuts — it’s crazy,” he told CNN.
“The way we played was the way we wanted to show the world — for me it’s highest achievement personally in rugby and a sporting arena.
“I never dreamed of being in an Olympics and being an Olympian let alone winning a gold medal.
“It’s an achievement which will stay with me for the rest of my life. It means a lot to the nation, it’s our first medal — a gold medal
“We have been coming to the Olympics since 1956 and hadn’t won a medal so to get a medal is unbelievable.”
Fiji’s rugby players arrived in Rio with fans expecting them to win a medal — and show the kind of rugby which has made them such a joy to watch over the years.
After winning the 2015/16 world series, the pressure was on Fiji and it’s English coach Ben Ryan, whose success led to him being awarded the Order of Fiji, the highest honorary title that can be awarded under the Order as well as a nice bonus of $14,700.
Speaking to CNN before leaving for Rio, Ryan had described the Olympics as his team’s “Everest.”
That they scaled it so easily, particularly in winning the final match 43-7 against Great Britain, was a testament to all involved.
“We were a good news story for world rugby,” Ryan told CNN.
“We’re a small country who hadn’t won a medal with small resources and we knocked over the bigger opponents and played in an amazing style.
“I think we engaged so many people who had not watched rugby before.”
Free buses were laid on for fans to attend the welcome home ceremony with players being made made officers of the Order of Fiji and rewarded with $14,700 each.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama told reporters that “the win has inspired people from around the world.”