‘We’ve got to win it first’ - could New Zealand Sevens star Sonny Bill Williams give Olympic gold medal away?
Sevens greats finding it ‘surreal’ to be part of the Games experience
Rugby superstar Sonny Bill Williams says even World Cup gold would be eclipsed by the Olympic equivalent – but he still might give his medal away to a lucky fan if he wins one.
The sport is returning to the Games in the shape of sevens and Williams, who has won the lot at 15s level, left us in no doubt what winning here would mean to him.
“It would have to surpass it, [the World Cup win] I think. As an athlete there’s no higher level than the Olympics … I’m just grateful to get the chance [to win both] and now we’re here I hope we’re successful.”
No ‘Zika’ sick notes here, that’s for sure, unlike many of the top golfers, whose sport is also back in the Games.
Williams famously gave away his World Cup winner’s medal to a fan in the crowd (and repeated the action at a somewhat lower level with his runners-up trophy at this year’s Hong Kong Sevens) - and didn’t rule out a repeat.
“We’ve got to win it first!” he laughed. “We’ll see how we go after.”
“Surreal” was a common refrain among the squad, who have starred across the globe in Super Rugby and on the World Sevens Series, but couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact they’re now Olympians.
Michael Phelps was collared for a group selfie - probably not wise to refuse if several black-clad behemoths request a pic - while teen star Rieko Ioane, back in the sevens team after tearing up Super Rugby, is desperate to get some face time with Kyrie Irving from the US basketball team.
“It’s pretty surreal, [and] really cool seeing all the athletes around the Village, how fit and hungry for success they are and we must us that for inspiration,” added Williams, whose sister will be in action for New Zealand’s women’s side.
“It’s pretty cool just being in the village,” said 19-year-old flier Ioane, who could be one of the breakout stars of the Games if Sevens catches fire as organisers and fans hope.
“This will be highlight of my career so far, perhaps only an All Black jersey or World Cup medal like Sonny’s [could beat it]. I’ve had a lot of rugby thrown my way this year and I’m just happy to take it all in and this is the big one for me.
“It’s been building and building for a couple of months and everyone’s starting to get itchy feet. We just want to get out there and play and once we do explode on everyone.”
Gordon Tietjens has won it all in his long career at the helm of the team, but he was in doubt “this is the pinnacle of my career.
“I’ve been to seven Commonwealth Games [winning four] and the Olympics is something special.
“In the Village you’re around the best and you have to be the best to win that medal
“It’s inspiring seeing the athletes and the fitness and commitment they show and we’ll need to show that ourselves.”