With no HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series action behind them and limited training time together because of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is a credit to the 24 teams competing at the Tokyo Olympics that the standard of both rugby sevens competitions was so high.
Despite all the physical and mental challenges they encountered on the road to Tokyo and the restrictions put in place to keep them safe whilst in Japan, the players showed just why rugby sevens has quickly captivated the Olympic audience and is the sport that everyone is talking about.
More tries and more points were scored than at Rio 2016 and there were some epic team and individual moments along the way as Fiji won gold for the second Games in the men's and the Black Ferns Sevens won gold in the women's. We’ve picked out some of the best.
Coming back from the dead
It had happened once before at the Olympics, in the fifth-place semi-final at Rio between Argentina and Australia. But to have two matches where a team came back from 21-0 down to win 26-21 was incredible.
With five minutes of their quarter-final against the USA gone, Great Britain were three converted tries behind on the scoreboard and playing without their injured captain Tom Mitchell.
But, somehow, they managed to dust themselves down, keep their composure, and come back from the abyss.
Ollie Lindsay-Hague’s try just before half-time gave Great Britain hope and the momentum continued to shift their way after the break. Ben Harris’ try brought his team right back into the match and when Alex Davis struck again, the tide really had turned. It was then left for Dan Norton to round off the win with a long-range try in the closing stages.
In the women’s competition, however, Great Britain had the tables turned on them.
Early tries by Helena Rowland, Megan Jones and Jasmine Joyce handed Great Britain a 21-0 lead, but a Michaela Blyde hat-trick and one from Tyla Nathan-Wong showed why the Black Ferns are the best team in the world.
Tears of despair on the face of Argentina captain Gaston Revol turned into tears of joy after his team defied his second-minute dismissal for a high tackle to beat the Blitzboks.
Rather than succumb to the blow as most people expected them to, the red card galvanised Los Pumas Sevens and a brace of tries from dazzling full-back Marcos Moneta sent them into half-time with an unlikely 14-7 lead.
Santiago Alvarez added a third try after the break to extend their advantage but Lautaro Bazan Velez's sin-binning meant they were hanging on at the end. A heroic effort from the five left on the pitch saw them secure a historic 19-14 win.
Argentina went on to win the bronze medal, their first medal of any kind at the Games.
Emma Tonegato was in red hot try-scoring form for Australia in their opening win over Japan— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) July 29, 2021
The @Aussie7s speedster is a devastating runner with ball in hand#HowWeSevens | #Rugby | #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/RncuPTwhEL
Left foot, right foot … see you later!
Plenty of sensational tries were scored in Tokyo, with brilliant team efforts interspersed with flashes of individual brilliance in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
However, in terms of toying with the last defender, none can rival one of Emma Tonegato’s hat-trick tries against Japan.
Tonegato had scored in all her four previous career appearances against Japan, so the Sakura Sevens knew she posed a big threat when they met Australia in the pool stages.
But Marin Kajiki was helpless to stop Tonegato as the Aussie star turned her inside and out not once but four times with a slaloming run that any downhill skier would have been proud of, prompting the TV commentator to exclaim, “left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot … see you later!”
The crying game
Being an Olympian comes with so much pride and expectation, so it’s not surprising that sometimes it all gets too much.
You couldn’t help but feel touched by the emotional outpouring from Fiji’s players after they had beaten New Zealand 27-12 to win the men’s gold medal.
Shortly after the final whistle sounded, Fiji’s triumphant squad sank to their knees and embraced each other as the enormity of their achievement sunk in.
Knowing what becoming Olympic champions for a second time meant to the 800,000 people back home, it wasn’t long before they prayed in a huddle before bursting into tears and then in song.
Two days later it was the turn of China’s star turn Chen Keyi.
“Really? Really? Really?” was Keyi’s reaction when her coach confirmed they had made the quarter-finals, a brilliant achievement for a team with such limited World Series experience.
As the magnitude of it sunk in, Keyi’s eyes glistened over.
Ruby’s TV gold
How Ruby Tui found the breath to conduct a brilliant impromptu post-match interview in Maori and English is a mystery.
After another amazing display from the All Blacks Sevens in the quarter-finals, Tui was called over by the BBC’s Jill Douglas and delivered two minutes’ worth of TV gold.
As Tui admitted herself, the 33-0 win over Russia took a lot out of her. “Don’t be fooled, that was not an easy game,” she said pointing directly at the camera, “There was lots of running and my GPS blew up. Lots of respect for Russia!”
Tui was then asked for her verdict on Great Britain and proceeded to do an entertaining impersonation of her mate, Abi Burton, at scrum-time.
Reapi what you sow!
Reapi Ulunisau went into the Olympics as Fijiana’s main player maker after injuries to Tokasa Seniyasi and Reijeli Uluinayau.
But she shouldered the responsibility very well and created a little bit of Olympic history in her team’s amazing run to the semi-finals.
Never before in the short history of the Games had a player bagged four tries in a match, yet Ulunisau broke new ground in Fijiana’s emphatic win over Brazil.
Fittingly, it was Uluinasau's try that secured the bronze medal for Fijiana in a 21-12 victory against Great Britain. She ended the tournament as the top try-scorer with eight tries.