Colombia’s women have made enormous personal sacrifices and shed blood, sweat and tears over the last four years to earn the right to be at the biggest extravaganza the world of rugby sevens has ever known.
Inspirational leader and forward Alejandra Betancur pinpoints their second-placed finish at the 2012 South American Championship as the start of the journey to Rio 2016.
“We realised then that it was down to us, and only us, if we wanted to make it to the Olympics," she said.
Three years later they were crowned regional champions after a last-gasp win over Argentina to qualify for the Olympic Games at Las Pumas’ expense.
"Along the way, we got a lot of people to dream with us and believe that it was possible. To see a whole country backing you with the same goal makes all the hard work worthwhile"
“Along the way, we got a lot of people to dream with us and believe that it was possible. To see a whole country backing you with the same goal makes all the hard work worthwhile," she said.
“We postponed family matters, study … but we were all together behind this dream. Team-mates had to relocate, live with friends and organise fund-raising events to support the process. I can now say that we're a family that is stuck together by this deep love.”
Las Tucanes’ togetherness will be put to the test in a daunting pool alongside HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions and top seeds Australia as well as series regulars USA and Fiji in Pool A at the Deodoro Stadium from 6-8 August.
However, Betancur, one of nine Medellin-based players in the squad of 12, insists the challenge is one they will embrace rather than fear.
“We are involved in a dream pool with the best in the world, and us Colombians love to take on the world’s best. The Olympic Games are the highest accolade a sports person can aspire to and we will be there in our own right. We worked and we sweat and we fought to get here and that makes us already successful.
“We will play our hearts out in everything we do. We will try to surprise the world of rugby as we have done everywhere we’ve played where the crowds have applauded our sacrifice and commitment. We will promote the name of our country as high as we can.”
While Colombia have publicly targeted a ninth-place finish at Rio 2016, Betancur hopes the growth of women’s rugby in Colombia will continue apace irrespective of how they fare at the Olympic Games.
“I hope it signals the start of a great era for women’s rugby in South America. We have played sevens in Colombia for more than 10 years and I hope we will soon be able to compete for a place in Women’s Rugby World Cup. In our region there is a huge talent reservoir and I want to continue working to develop this.”