Tears of jubilation flowed after Australia claimed the inaugural women’s Rugby Sevens Olympic gold medal on Tuesday morning (AEST).
The triumph was especially poignant for super-sub Ellia Green.
The 23-year-old, who came off the bench to score a vital second-half try in Australia’s stirring 24-17 defeat of New Zealand in the final, has been inspired throughout her Olympic journey by her biggest fan and most tireless supporter, mother Yolanta.
Yolanta has twice been diagnosed with cancer, and her daughter writes “mum” on her wrist strapping before every match as a reminder of what the family has been through and to serve as motivation out on the field.
“You have to be mentally strong,” Green said in Rio last week.
“So whenever I’m feeling like my legs are burning, I just look down at my wrist.
“I remind myself my mum is a fighter and so I am going to fight for her as well.”
Green convinced teammates to shoot a team calendar last year to raise funds for the Cancer Council as Yolanta fought breast cancer.
The calendar featured this touching quote from Green: “Persevere to achieve greatness and you can fight any challenge that life may throw at you.
“Mum, you are my inspiration, my determination, my queen.”
Suva-born Green’s starring role in Australia’s Sevens success saw her create history – she is believed to be the first person of Fijian heritage to win an Olympic medal.
Green moved to Australia with her adoptive parents at the age of five.
Ellia’s father died when she was young, but Yolanta has been with her for every step of a remarkable sporting journey.
Green was a junior athletics star, representing Australia in the 100m, 200m and long jump at the World School Games in Qatar in 2009, but her path to seemingly inevitable senior national honours changed trajectory when she drove her cousin to a rugby talent identification camp in Melbourne in 2012.
Green ended up participating herself and was playing for the Australian Sevens team just a year later, while she became a viral sensation after scoring a dazzling long-range match-winner against Canada at the 2014 Gold Coast Sevens.
The Warringah Ratettes flyer has tallied an exceptional 64 tries on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit, becoming one of the women’s game’s biggest names thanks to her blend of power, pace and scoring potency.
Yolanta booked her ticket to Rio before Ellia was even confirmed as part of the squad, such is her dominance in rugby’s abbreviated format.
A rag-tag team of champions
Green’s non-rugby background is echoed throughout the Australian Sevens line-up, too.
Charlotte Caslick, who had an absolute blinder in the Olympic final and is regarded by many as the best female Sevens player in the world, was a national 800m champion at primary school level.
Caslick is also one of four Australian Touch Football reps in the gold-medal-winning Sevens squad, along with Nicole Beck, Alicia Quirk and Emilee Cherry.
The scorer of Australia’s contentious opening try in the Olympic final, Emma Tongegato, featured on the wing in the Jillaroos’ success at the 2013 Women’s Rugby League World Cup before switching codes later that year.
Rugby union – and Sevens in particular – has been at the forefront of the massive advancements made in women’s sport in Australia in recent years.
The ARU’s decision to pull support for the Australian women’s team’s entry to the 2002 (15-a-side) World Cup was viewed as a key factor in the IOC’s initial rejection of rugby as an Olympic sport, but ARU funding and support has been integral to the rapid growth of women’s rugby over the past decade.
Australia clinched its first women’s Sevens Series title in May, ousting three-time champs New Zealand.
And the team’s historic gold medal success in Rio should ensure the women’s game’s popularity continues to skyrocket.