Ben Ryan honored with plot of land and Fijian name after Olympic success

One of the most inspiring stories of Rio 2016 is reaching its emotional end.

Fiji is preparing for the departure of Ben Ryan, the English rugby coach who rediscovered his love of the game in a tropical paradise and helped the tiny Pacific Island nation overcome tragedy and win its first gold Olympic medal.

Last week he was awarded the country’s highest honor, being made a Companion of the Order of Fiji by its president Jioji Konrote.

On Monday the 44-year-old was given three acres of land by the people of Serua province, and bestowed with the Fijian name Ratu Peni Raiyani Latianara.

“The land now belongs to him and his family and all his descendants, and he can do anything he wants with the land now, it is his now,” Ratu Kini Vitukawalu, one of the chiefs of Vunibau village, was quoted as saying by Fiji’s Newswire agency.

“And because he has claimed to be one of us, it is only fitting that he has land too to forever tie him to Serua.”

Ryan, who came to Fiji in 2013 with his wife Natalie, said Serua had played a key role in resurrecting the fortunes of sevens in Fiji, where the shortened rugby format is an integral part of community life.

“I love every part of Fiji but this part in particular, Serua,” he said at the ceremony. “Serua will always be our vale (home). I will be back soon, it will always be a place in my heart and I would just like to say a big vinaka vakalevu (thank you).

“This small piece of land is what we have constantly spoke about when we were in the world series, because this is where the work was done and this is where the minds were forged and this is where the players were selected.”

Under Ryan’s guidance, Fiji won back-to-back Sevens World Series titles and went into the Olympics as clear favorite to win gold.

The team thrashed Great Britain 43-7 in the final to earn Fiji’s first medal of any kind at the Summer Games.

The victory brought ecstatic celebrations in a country still dealing with the devastating effects of February’s Cyclone Winstone, which killed more than 40 people and left many homeless.

Ryan said before the Olympics that it would likely be his last tournament in charge of Fiji, with his contract due to expire next month.

He told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that he has received “over 20 offers” including one from the Japanese Rugby Union, which would include coaching the national 15s and sevens teams plus its Sunwolves franchise in the Super Rugby competition.

Japan, which finished a surprise fourth at the Olympics in the men’s competition after losing to Fiji in the semifinals, will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Ryan had previously been coach of England’s sevens team, and took it to the 2013 World Cup final in his final tournament in charge.

He told CNN in March he had felt burnt out by corporate pressures after his seven years in the role, but life in Fiji had helped rejuvenate him — despite not being paid for his first four months due to the national rugby union’s financial problems.

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