What a magnificent journey it’s been, come day one of the XXXI Olympiad, rugby sevens kicks off with the women’s competition and France clashing with Spain, an opponent they know well, in what will probably be a testy, close affair.
In 2009 it was confirmed that rugby sevens would take part in the Games – but significantly the inclusion was for men and women. World Rugby got to work and established the Women’s Sevens Series which launched in 2012 and four years later there are arguable eight of the 12 teams that will compete ferociously for the right to claim that first sevens gold medal.
Read any preview of the Rio 2016 sevens competition and the Australian women will be touted as favourites for the gold after 12 months of glorious form where they won the 2015-16 world series after victories in Dubai, Sao Paulo and Atlanta.
The vision that former Australian sevens captain Tim Walsh had for this team has come to fruition with a squad of athletes that quite frankly look like lean jack rabbits born to sprint, scamper and avoid traffic.
But don’t be fooled by the ribbons in their hair. While they prefer to use their exceptionally quick hands, they can mix it up in the physical contest thanks to the strength and experience that co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry bring.
However the Aussies aren’t unbeatable as shown by the last two tournaments of the series where Canada took them down 29-19 in the final in Clermont-Ferrand, and England beat them 15-5 in the semi-final in Langford. In fact England also dealt them a loss in Atlanta in April so the girls in gold aren’t all conquering, they’re just more consistent than any other team.
Great Britain ends up being England in disguise for the Olympics, just one player outside the English regulars has made the team in Wales' Jasmine Joyce who offers pure pace out wide. This will be a competitive team as shown by their ability to upset teams like Australia and New Zealand. Their success may centre on their incredibly powerful forward Heather Fisher whose work-rate and aggression has set her apart from other forwards this season.
Canada finished off the season with the title in Clermont-Ferrand and on the back of that will be confident. This team plays a good structure using the width and their fitness well. But the one question mark is maybe that they have less game-breakers than other teams. Their one true x-factor star is Ghislaine Landry after Magali Harvey was the surprise omission.
Game-breakers are what New Zealand have all over the park, Gayle Broughton and Kelly Brazier are the playmakers the Kiwis base their offloading game off, while Kayla McAlister and Portia Woodman (main picture) are their power finishers, with Sarah Goss and Huriana Manual doing the work up front.
If the New Zealanders have an Achilles heel in might be in the inexperience off the bench with Terina Te Tamaki and Theresa Fitzpatrick becoming contracted players this year, and making the Olympic squad ahead of other more experienced players. But on the flip side, they might be relative unknown weapons ready to be unleased.
If you were looking for a surprise team perhaps the United States will be the one to watch after a tumultuous year which saw Ric Suggitt not being reappointed as coach, and then new coach Jules McCoy being replaced by Richie Walker mid-series.
Walker was key in getting the team to gel last season, and now he’s had time with a more settled squad they will be a dangerous unit. In the same pool, Fiji are the other side that teams will have to be wary of as their offloading style of rugby is very difficult to defend when they are in form.
While the eventual winner of the gold medal is far from predetermined, one fact isn’t. The world will be amazed by the aggression, passing ability, speed and all round visual impact the sevens girls will showcase.
Ellia Green will become a household name in Australia as her talented team-mates inside provide her with plenty of ball which she will no doubt score from.
Woodman will prove once again she is one of the best wingers in the game – male or female –to individually create and score tries.
Litia Naiqato with her ability to carry the ball in one hand and outmuscle opponents will make Fijians proud.
For the USA, Jillian Potter will inspire too with her incredible story of recovery from cancer and her huge work-rate and leadership on the field.
And most importantly the pocket rocket that is Brazil’s captain Paula Ishibashi will exhibit more courage than a lion when she drags down attackers almost twice her size. Brazil have a chance of making the quarter-finals and will benefit from a loud home crowd.
It is sevens' debut at the Games, one team will end up with gold, but every single one of the athletes wins by making history for women’s rugby at Rio 2016.