16 August, 2021
Asaeli Tuivuaka never dreamt that one day, he would be running on the field with the great Semi Radradra.
These were some of his highlights apart from winning the Olympic Gold medal.
“I am one of his biggest fans,’’ Tuivuaka shared with national trainer Nacanieli Cawanibuka via a LIVE video during training.
“Being called up for the Olympics and to arrive in Tokyo was like a dream for me, but running beside Radradra in training and listening to him share his knowledge was special for me. I always watched him play for Parammata Eeels and used to dream I could run like him, but now to sit next to him here and playing with him is very special for me.
On July 28, 2021, as the national anthem was being sung on the Gold medal Dias in Tokyo, he thought about his mother and the challenges the family went through. He also thought of those players who shared the journey with him but were dropped. This he shared to the Fiji Times upon his return. It was only three weeks later (due to isolation protocols) that they were able to reach home.
His mind went back to the days in camp during the lockdown period. “I was so excited when I received my gold medal, I had achieved my dream and promise to my family.”
Tuivuaka had lost his father when he was only 14 and rugby was his goal to get his family out of the struggles of being raised by a single mother. Through rugby he gained employment at the Fiji Corrections Service in 2017.
From thereon he caught the eye of the Drua management and not long Gareth Baber picked him up for his block busting runs and hard tackles which earned him the name Tank on the World Series.
For Josua Kurinabili, making it to Tokyo was a journey that started way back in 2016.
Having missed out on the chance for Rio Olympics only made him work harder as he know knew his capability.
The hardest part about his returning home with his gold medal was the absence of his father, mentor, and biggest supporter the late Tui Conua who passed away in July 2020.
“He was the one who pushed me to improve my game since 2016 and losing him last year only made me work harder to make the team,’’ he told the media on his return.
“Walking through the village, I was emotional and only hoped that my father was here, to shake my hand and hug me because I was able to accomplish what he wanted me to achieve,” said Vakurunabili.
Only three days later, the Fijiana moved celebrations up another level when they beat defending Olympic Bronze medallists, Canada and later sent defending Olympic champions Australia home packing before taking on World Champions New Zealand in what was dubbed the game of the tournament. The Fijiana lost out in extra time to New Zealand in the semis but went on to win bronze against Great Britain.
The experience and ground breaking performance was the most satisfying for Fijiana veteran Reijeli Daveua whose six year journey with women’s rugby finally paid dividends in Tokyo.
“I hope that finally we will now be given equal opportunity and also young women will also realize that rugby is also a sport for them here in Fiji.”
Daveua, came from a track and field and netball background gaining prominence at National level in the latter. Her switch to rugby 7s saw her winning the Rookie of the Year Award in only her first year in the HSBC Series.
“I was being ridiculed when I took up rugby but it pushed me to work harder because I throught about how my parents had also worked hard for me, and this was my chance to do better in life.”
All players also pay their gratitude to the support from the Fiji Corrections Service leadership, officers, men and women and their families.
“It has been through FCS that we had been encouraged to develop our game, we are given time and opportunity to train, opportunities to sharpen our skills so our journey to the nationals has been alongside our FCS family and our own,’’ Daveua told Fiji TV’s Captain of Lives show prior to the Olympics.
“For those who want to be national reps, make use of the opportunities FCS gives in terms of sports to support national building, there is no short cut – you have to train hard, that’s the only way.”