With parents who represented their respective countries in field events at the Olympics, Anne-Cécile Ciofani had it in her genes to be a sporting success story.
But even so, the French flyer could never have dreamed when she took up rugby as an 18-year-old just under a decade ago that one day her name would be on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year trophy alongside greats of the game like Charlotte Caslick and Michaela Blyde.
Ciofani, the standout performer in France’s silver-medal winning team at the Tokyo Olympics, was completely taken aback when former England Rugby World Cup winner, Danielle Waterman, informed her that she had won the award, beating off competition from fellow nominees, Sarah Hirini of New Zealand and Fiji’s Alowesi Nakoci and Reapi Ulunisau, and presented her with a letter of congratulations from World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont.
“It’s fabulous because I really wasn’t expecting this. I was in a category with a lot of great players,” she said, beaming from ear-to-ear and hardly believing what she’d just heard.
Teamwork makes the dream work
In being named the best player of 2021, Ciofani broke Oceania’s dominance of the award, first introduced in 2013.
And, in true rugby style, the 28-year-old was the first to acknowledge that her personal success was all down to her team-mates.
“I am proud to represent my country and proud of all the years of hard work we have had to put in as a team. We have great staff who allow us to perform at our best and we love training together,” she said.
“The team grew up with me and I grew up with the team so it’s down to teamwork, and I was just there to finish. We have worked so well these past few years and have really progressed as a team. It is all about the team.”
A former heptathlete, Ciofani crossed over to rugby relatively late but is delighted that she made the decision and would encourage others thinking of following in her footsteps to give it a try.
“Believe in yourself and believe in your dreams because even if you are not going to be in the national team, rugby has such core values that we all share and that we all love. It is going to be an amazing experience no matter what,” was her message.
Keeping it in the family
Having appeared at one Olympics and taken home the silver medal, Ciofani now has her mind set on making the squad for France 2024.
With no fans allowed to watch in Tokyo, Ciofani’s parents were unable to see the try machine in full flight. But they have been to an Olympics before – as competitors.
Her father Walter Ciofani finished seventh in the hammer at the 1984 Games for France, while mother Jeanne Ngo Minyemeck competed in discus at the 1988 Games for Cameroon.
Having them there, in the stadium, would mean the world to Ciofani.
“It’s beyond my dreams, being able to play in an Olympics and in front of my parents and making them proud,” she said.
“It is maybe something that not everyone gets to live in their lifetime. It is a really great opportunity and I hope I will be able to do my best at the Olympics and the team will do its best at the Olympics.”