RIO DE JANEIRO — After getting knocked down in a disappointing semifinal, Canada picked itself up to thump Britain and win the first ever bronze medal in Olympic women's rugby sevens Monday.
The Canadians, who lost 22-0 to Britain in an error-filled preliminary-round game, dominated the bronze medal game en route to a 33-10 victory. Australia, which downed Canada 17-5 in a convincing semifinal victory earlier in the day, defeated New Zealand 24-17 to win gold.
For many of the Canadian women, the bronze was something special to take home after a journey together of five years or longer.
Captain Jen Kish, who absorbed some body-crunching hits Monday, almost floated over to the waiting media after the resounding bronze medal win.
"I feel like a superhero," said a beaming Kish, who had been shedding tears just minutes earlier as the clock counted down. "I know 11 of my other teammates feel that way too.
"What a freaking historic moment for us. Now I know what our Canadian women's soccer team felt like when they got bronze (at the 2012 Games). It's just an ultimate superhero feeling. It's great."
The Canadian women have undoubtedly inspired. But in some ways, the bronze will be a shiny consolation prize.
"It's bittersweet because I still feel if we'd been able to put that performance in against Australia, we'd be playing in the finals match for gold instead," coach John Tait said. "It's a hard lesson for us. The good news is we still got a medal out of it and the girls can be really proud of that."
Third-seeded Canada made life hard for itself all tournament, consigned itself to play top-seeded Australia in the semis after losing its final pool game to No. 4 Britain.
The Canadians needed to bring their 'A' game to threaten the Aussies, who lost just three times in 30 World Series games this season, but failed to rise to the occasion.
"There's a lot of games over this tournament that we just didn't play the rugby that we are capable of," said Ghislaine Landry, who led Canada with 18 points in a bounce-back performance against Britain. "We were pretty disappointed with that, but that's a performance that we can be proud of and it's good rugby.
"I'm glad people got to see the chance to see that because that's what we can do on a regular basis. We just weren't able to do it this tournament overall."
Landry who called the Australia loss a "heartbreaker," said the team rebounded by going back to basics.
Tait acknowledged after the semifinal defeat that a bronze medal was "not the one we wanted." But his team eventually won it in style, reeling off 19 unanswered points to lead 26-5 at the half.
Landry scored two tries and added four conversions. Canada also got tries from Karen Paquin, Bianca Farella and Kelly Russell.
"Had we played like that all tournament, it would have been a gold medal for sure," said Landry.
But for Kish, the bronze medal win was a show of character after the poor showing against Australia.
"We were devastated. The gold medal dream was over," she said. "But you know what, the loss doesn't define us. It's how you get up after the loss and we rose to the occasion."
The final performance was a tonic for Tait, a towering former Canadian international who has guided the team to significant heights. He said his players came out against Britain "a little bit pissed off with the way they played (against) Australia."
The pressure was on.
Rugby Canada has given its coaches little rope in recent months, letting men's sevens coach Liam Middleton go and losing 15s coach Kieran Crowley after a post-World Cup review.
"We're funded to win and get on the podium," said Tait. "So there's a lot hanging in the balance. People's jobs and the girls' livelihoods and funding ... But the girls showed what happens."
The medal was years in the making with Tait and his team having endured ups and down on and off the field. They have battled injuries, family illnesses and worse. Tait took pride in his players finishing on a high note.
"They've gone through a lot together. They knew deep down inside when they play like they can, they're pretty hard to beat," he said.
How close are the Canadian women? There are hugs all round in the tunnel before every game.
The medal is huge for Rugby Canada and punctuates the importance of the women's game in the country. The men's sevens team failed to qualify for the Games and the 15-man team is ranked 18th in the world, compared to No. 2 to the women.
The Australians were the class of the Women's World Series this season, winning three of the five events and finishing second and third in the other two. Their record on the circuit was 27-3 with two of the defeats at the hands of England. The other setback was a 29-19 loss to Canada in the final of the last event of the season in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
Australia won two earlier meetings with Canada on the circuit.
Canada split its four World Series meetings this season with England, which joins forces with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to compete as Britain at the Games, but won the last two encounters.
There were plenty of empty seats at Deorodo Stadium on Monday although there was star quality in the afternoon in the form of actor Matthew McConaughey in a Team USA shirt cheering on the Americans.
Canada came into the tournament as a medal contender after winning last summer's Pan American Games and finishing third on the world circuit this season. The Canadians were second in the World Series in 2014-15.
Women's rugby is making its Olympic debut, while men's rugby returns for the first time since 1924 when the U.S. won the 15-a-side tournament.
Some of the Canadian women will be heading to new challenges after the Games. Tait is already looking for a new generation of players.
"So if there are any girls out there looking to play in 2020, you can contact me directly at email@example.com," he said.
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