For me, one of the strangest things about living in the South Pacific is the utterly confusing time difference.
Coming from North America, I’ve grown accustomed to being an entire day ahead of everyone back home, though being ‘behind’ hour-wise in whatever day I’m in. It’s self-explanatory while looking at a map of time zones, but still makes my head hurt.
This confusion is especially prevalent during this year’s Olympics.
Lately I’ve been volunteering at a local kindergarten, where, like everywhere else it seems, the hot topic is Fiji’s acclaimed Olympic rugby team.
At one point earlier this week I couldn’t help but notice the head teacher sternly fixated on her phone, fervently reading something clearly quite serious.
“Everything alright…?” I asked cautiously.
“Ah yes,” she responded “All good. Fiji won.”
The teacher laughed. “Rugby! They just beat Argentina. New Zealand is already out, which is very good. Fiji plays the U.S. today, so good for you either way!”
Rugby isn’t a particularly common sport where I’m from, and I’d been trying to watch a legitimate rugby match since the day I arrived in Fiji, so this was definitely something I wanted to see.
“What time are they playing?” I asked.
“4:30 tomorrow morning.”
“I thought you said they’re playing today?”
“Yes, they are.”
“Wait…” I thought for a second, and then realized technically it would still be the same date in Brazil as it was currently in Fiji at 4:30 am Fiji time the next morning. Confusing to say the least!
Considering I hadn’t been remotely conscious at 4:30 am anytime in recent memory, not even with my intense jet lag the first few days here, I did not rouse early enough to view that particular game, as much as it would have pleased me to see the Fijians absolutely wallop the American team. To be honest, I was surprised the United States even had an Olympic rugby team.
“Blahhh umm errrr is it over already? They win?” I mumbled half-asleep to my roommate, a far more disciplined slumberer than I, as she quietly snuck back into our room approximately 15 minutes after attempting to stir me awake around 4:25 am for the game.
“Yep, they won,” she said grinning, after reminding me once more the fast nature of how rugby sevens work, as opposed to the ‘rugby union’ and all the other various forms of rugby, which I still have a hard time differentiating. “I think they have a real shot for the gold.”
“Wow. Yeah, that’d be cool,” I replied, not aware at the moment exactly how big a deal that would be.
The following morning, I woke up to the news Fiji had just beaten Japan, thus ensuring them a place in the Olympic finals and chance to win a gold medal. At the very least they were guaranteed silver, which meant no matter the outcome, it would be the first time Fiji had ever won an Olympic medal in any sport in the nation’s history.
You could just feel the air buzzing with elated trepidation.
I decided that I couldn’t not watch this monumental game. After all, I’d still never seen an actual rugby game in my life, so this felt like an appropriate introduction to the favorite sport of my temporary island home.
Before the final match against Great Britain, which thankfully was broadcast at the much nicer hour of 10:00 am Fiji time, the network played all of the semi-final rounds, first being France vs. Australia in a fight to place 7th and 8th overall, then New Zealand vs. Argentina for 5th and 6th, and then Japan vs. South Africa for 3rd and 4th place, deciding who won the bronze.
It was fascinating.
I’m a huge fan of ice hockey back home (because who doesn’t love watching men crash into men on ice!?), but what I observed in the Olympic rugby sevens took my expectations as a sports spectator to an entirely new level. These good-looking men not only crashed into each other – they tackled; they rolled; they leaped; they lifted each other up in the air; anything to get the oval-shaped ball to their end of the field.
The fast-paced nature of rugby sevens added to the intensity with no tedious breaks or unnecessary time-outs, which is the primary reason why I have extreme difficulty sitting through American NFL games. These guys just kept moving.
After finding myself wildly impressed by the players’ immense athletic skill throughout the first enthralling hour and a half of rugby pre-finals, it dawned on me Fiji had defeated all of these teams. Prior to this, I’d read a number of articles describing the Fijian rugby team’s inspiring journey to the Olympics, lead by a British man named Ben Ryan, who evidently first took the coaching job down in Fiji as a cure for burnout. Now that was something I could really relate to.
Regardless, when it was finally time for the final match of Fiji vs. Great Britain, I had a strong hunch they’d win even before the game commenced – once the Fijians emerged, they ran onto the field with such gusto and pride I could practically sense their overflowing confidence bursting through the television screen all the way from Rio.
Like all the others, this game went quickly, but the poor Brits didn’t even score in the first half, much less succeed in getting the ball over to their side of the field. These Fijian men were literally human blockades. I’d never seen anything like it.
It was immediately obvious Great Britain had no chance.
Cheers could be heard all over the neighborhood throughout the game and afterwards, combined with bounteous firecrackers and the occasional live daytime firework. I found myself almost as emotional as the Fijian rugby players on TV as they accepted their well deserved gold medals.
The celebration continued on for the duration of the afternoon, and as it was conveniently a Friday, intensified throughout the evening and night (rightfully so). It was truly a historic day for Fiji!