Olympic bronze for a former Stinger: 'It's an incredible feeling'
Earlier this week, the Canadian women's rugby 7s team beat Great Britain 33-10 to claim the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.
Former Concordia Stinger Bianca Farella scored an important try during the pivotal match to help secure Canada’s place on the podium.
“It's been an incredible feeling. Ever since we won bronze, the only word I can use to describe this experience is surreal,” says the 24-year-old Côte-Saint-Luc native.
“The Olympics are huge in every sense of the word. We tried our hardest to pretend it was just a regular tournament, but that’s difficult when there are Olympic rings all around. This whole experience has been, and still is, very overwhelming. I'm so grateful, and it's incredible to think that our team is a pioneer of this sport.”
Women’s rugby made its Olympic debut this year — while the men’s game made its first appearance since 1924. The inclusion of seven-a-side rugby (commonly known as rugby 7s) in the Olympics has opened the world to a faster, fiercer version of the traditional 15-a-side game.
“I think it’s going to blow up, just like how women's soccer blew up in the last couple of years,” says Farella. “It’s a spectator-friendly sport, it's fast-paced and people want to watch it.”
‘We did what we had to do’
Standing on the podium with their medals, Farella says she and her teammates couldn’t help but reflect on all the work that went into that moment.
“We were laughing about the last couple of days, whispering to each other about all the things that we had gone through and how it brought us here,” she says. “Of course it was bittersweet, it was tough to lose in the semi-finals, but at the end of the day, we did what we had to do.”
The three-day journey to the podium came with no shortage of trials and tribulations for the Canadian team. On the first day of the tournament, they breezed past Japan and Brazil, only to suffer a hard 22-0 loss to Great Britain the next morning.
Undampened, the team came back that same day to deliver a decisive victory over France, securing a spot in the semi-finals.
Unfortunately, the women weren’t able to topple Australia, who ended up taking gold. As fate would have it, they once again met Great Britain in the battle for bronze.
“Our team is really good at shifting our mindset and focusing on the next challenge. There’s no point in wallowing in defeat when you have another game to play in a couple of hours,” says Farella.
“When we played them in pool play we knew they didn't beat us; we had beaten ourselves. Our mindset going into the bronze-medal game was to focus on our game plan. If we did that we knew would come out with the win, and we did.”
Since the victory Farella has been adjusting to her title of Olympic medalist.
“It's so hard to remind myself that it's there, and it's a real thing. It's not a dream, it’s not a regular tournament; it's an Olympic bronze medal.”
When Farella arrived at Concordia University in 2012, she had already proven herself as a dominant force in the Quebec CEGEP league, winning three provincial titles with the Dawson Blues.
She quickly adjusted to playing at the university level, scoring 12 tries in six matches for the Stingers and earning both the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Rookie of the Year titles.
In the Quebec championship, Farella scored three tries to lead Concordia to a 35-34 victory over the Laval Rouge-et-Or, and was named the game MVP. Concordia went on to finish fourth at the CIS National Championships at St. Francis Xavier University.
Farella looks back fondly on her season as a Stinger.
“Going to the nationals was a super fun trip. I had missed the pre-season tour because I was at the World Cup qualifier, so I hadn't yet gone on tour with the team. It was really nice to end the season with a trip with the girls.”
Farella left Concordia after her rookie season to go to British Columbia in order to train with the national program and pursue her dream of representing Canada at the 2016 Olympics.
Her advice for athletes with similar aspirations is simple: work hard.
“As a student athlete, once you know what sport is for you, keep going, work on your skills, and work hard. That's what I did, that's what all my teammates did and that's why we are where we are now.”
For now, Farella plans to enjoy the rest of her time in Rio before returning to BC. One day she hopes to finish her degree, and a return to Concordia is not out of the question.
“I live in Victoria now, because that's where we train. So, in the immediate future I don't see myself in Montreal, but I do have two more years left to my degree, so who knows what the future holds!”
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