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Tuwai back in Fiji’s fold as the Olympic champions target a rugby sevens three-peat in Paris

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SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Osea Kolinisau led Fiji to its first ever Olympic gold medal when rugby sevens made its debut at the Summer Games in 2016 and now, as a coach, he’s turning to old teammate Jerry Tuwai to help the Pacific nation’s bid for a three-peat.

Kolinisau, the inspirational Fiji captain at Rio de Janeiro eight years ago, was drafted in to coach the men’s national sevens squad earlier this year when it was struggling in the world series.

He has only recently recalled 35-year-old Tuwai — the two-time Olympic champion, Sevens World Cup winner and world sevens player of the decade — who in now part of Fiji’s contingent in Paris.

“The Olympic Games are a unique event, and our biggest challenge will be adjusting to the rhythm and flow that comes with the international stage, given our limited time together,” Kolinisau said. “I am confident in the talent and experience of our players.”

Fiji Rugby said it was confident Kolinisau’s lineup “with its blend of seasoned veterans and dynamic young talent, will rise to the occasion and make the nation proud.”

The men’s rugby sevens tournament kicks off July 24 — two days before the opening ceremony for the Paris Olympics — and Fiji is in Pool C with host and world series final champion France, the U.S. and Uruguay.

The women’s tournament runs July 28-30, with Tokyo bronze medalist Fiji in Pool A with defending champion New Zealand, Canada and China.

The women’s team was confirmed early Thursday, with Sesenieli Donu recovering from a long-term knee injury to take her place in coach Saiasi Fuli’s Fijiana 15-player lineup.

Donu played an important role in Fijiana’s unexpected run to the bronze medal at Tokyo three years ago but injured her knee at the Women’s World Cup in 2022 and needed surgery.

She said there were times when she almost lost hope during her long recovery.

“I prayed for it and had the faith to continue with my rehab, and now I am preparing for the Olympics,” she said ahead of the squad announcement, reflecting on her motivation. “Don’t give up on your dream. This has helped me push through the toughest moments.”

The squads are cut to 12 for the Olympic competition, with a further three players designated as traveling reserves.

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Squads:

Men: Joseva Talacolo, Jeremaia Matana, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Ponipate Loganimasi, Josaia Raisuqe, Terio Veilawa, Jerry Tuwai, Waisea Nacuqu, Iosefo Masi, Iowane Teba, Selestino Ravutaumada, Ratu Felipe Sauturaga, Kaminieli Rasaku, Joji Nasova, Vuiviwa Naduvalo.

Women: Raijeli Daveua, Verenaisi Ditavutu, Adi Vani Buleki, Lavena Cavuru, Reapi Ulunisau, Ana Maria Naimasi, Ilisapeci Delaiwau, Kolora Lomani, Aloesi Nakoci, Laisana Likuceva, Maria Rokotuisiga, Sesenieli Donu, Meredani Qoro, Adimereani Rogosau, Talei Qalo Wilson.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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