Ben Ryan's Sevens Heaven Fijian Odyssey Delights
A Quick Book Review
Seeing small Pacific island nation Fiji secure a gold medal at Tokyo 2020 may have been an unusual sight for some, but for those paying attention, it might have seemed as the start of a potential dynasty in rugby sevens. Team Fiji entered this summer's Olympic tournament as defending champions from Rio 2016, after all, so the second gold confirmed that the first wasn't a fluke.
Recounting his adventures leading the squad to Fiji's first-ever Olympic medal, Ryan offers a picture of a frustratingly disorganized yet talented system that both challenges and inspires. As an Englishman standing out as a rank outsider in the South Pacific, Ryan is able to objectively observe, and relate, the idiosyncrasies unique to Fijian sport and rugby.
Some of it is might be expected from a first world-er's point of view - government (mis)oversight, bureaucratic lethargy, fiscal problems dealt with by a shrug, logistical difficulties of transportation and basic operations. Add in a mix of Fijian reverence for family time over training, bad diet, unhealthy habits from an underserved and underdeveloped community, and more, and you get a true fish-out-of-water story.
But Ryan perseveres through the tumult, learning - and passing on - an appreciation for each team member's personal challenges and foibles, while navigating the community's 'coconut wireless' of feedback and second guessing. The journey to Rio gold took a toll on Ryan, but the result of a medal for Fiji was inspiration.
What Sevens Heaven shows in retrospect after the team's Tokyo 2020's successful defense is that Fiji is certainly a power. Despite all its foibles. While Ryan had powered the team to nine individual World Series tournament titles and the 2015-15 overall title, Fiji's mercurial talent lived on the edge of meltdown at any given stage. How would they react at such a grand, bright stage of a first Olympics against the well-funded and well-prepared rivals from New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia? Turns out...very well. In Sevens heaven, it's hard not agree that Fiji really is 'everyone's second favorite team'.
So...now...where's the published saga of the Fijiana, Team's Fiji's women's rugby sevens team that won the bronze medal at Tokyo 2020? As much fun as it was to follow the men's exploits, a now-Fiji fan reader yearns to hear more of what the women went through for their Olympic milestone!