New Zealand celebrated its gold medal in women’s Olympic Rugby 7s with a special version of the haka, showing all the fierceness and focus that had seen them become worthy winners against France in the final at the Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.
Their version is called ‘Ko Uhia Mai’, or ‘Let It Be Known’, a fitting name as they left no doubt as to was the best team. The Black Ferns made up for a disappointing silver medal performance in Rio five years ago with a 26-12 triumph.
"It’s just pure joy," captain Sarah Hirini told reporters. "I just think about everything that we've had to do to get to this moment. I thought about all the people back home who have helped us, also the players who trained hard but missed out on getting here.
"To win this is pretty crazy and it’s something where you look at your teammates and think, 'We finally did it. We've done it for New Zealand'."
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What is the haka?
The haka is a legendary ceremonial dance marked by rhythmic movements, exaggerated facial expressions and emotional chanting. It’s rooted in the culture of the Maori, the Polynesian people of New Zealand. They may be performed at weddings or birthday celebrations, but became famous when the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team began performing it.
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Reason to celebrate
Hirini said Black Ferns used the disappointment of five years ago, when they lost to Australia in the final, to create a new ethos within the team, led by coach Allan Bunting.
"He came to us leaders after Rio and said we need to create a culture where you can be yourself, where you can be free and be really good people as well. I think over the last five years we have managed to do that.
"It’s a pretty special group to be part of, where there is a genuine love for each other. I am sure you'll see when we get out of quarantine (in New Zealand) that we'll all continue to hang out together."
While many of the competitors in Tokyo are facing an uncertain future with countries seeking to cut back on their Sevens program, Hirini said New Zealand were looking to develop further in the coming years.
"We are very fortunate in our country that we get to do this for a living as professional athletes in a centralized program," she added. "That's why we're so successful because we spend so much time together and we work really hard.
"We've got a program (in New Zealand) where a young girl can aspire to play and get paid to do so, and I hope it keeps growing and growing because they can make a good career out of it."