Paris Olympics: What to know and who to watch during the rugby sevens competition

A roadmap to follow for the rugby sevens competition at the Paris Olympics:

Athletes to Watch

—Antoine Dupont, France: The 27-year-old scrumhalf is one of the world’s best rugby players. He has been turning his attention to the condensed sevens format of the sport this year with the aim of winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil.

—Michael Hooper, Australia: He was the longest-serving captain of Australia’s Wallabies before converting to sevens after failing to make the cut for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. The 32-year-old forward has been taking a crash course in the finer arts of sevens in the world series.

—Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, New Zealand: An Olympic champion and the all-time leading scorer in the women’s world sevens series — scoring a 250th career try during the Singapore Sevens in May. She won a gold medal in Tokyo, offsetting the bitter disappointment of a loss to Australia in 2016 when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at Rio de Janeiro.

—Ilona Maher, United States: She was one of TikTok’s breakout stars of the Tokyo Olympics, where she posted while wearing a red, white and blue bucket hat. Maher uses a #beastbeautybrains campaign and hopes her videos spread body image positivity and bring more attention to the sport.

Storylines to Follow

—Antoine Dupont says he “got involved in this Olympic project” to win a medal. In his first two tournaments playing in the sevens world series he helped France to a bronze and a gold. The victory in Carson, California in March was a first title in 19 years on the men’s sevens world circuit for the French. Then he helped France to its first world series championship in Madrid on June 2. Can he repeat in Paris?

—Fiji’s first-ever Olympic gold medal was delivered by the men’s rugby sevens team at Rio in 2016, when the sport made its debut at the Summer Games. It was a just reward for a nation where the game is entwined in the social fabric. Not surprisingly, the men’s team delivered another gold in Tokyo. A third straight Olympic title is more of a long shot, with Fiji failing to win a stop on this season’s world series tour.

—Australia and New Zealand have split the first two Olympic titles in women’s rugby sevens and have tussled for the top spot in the world sevens series this year. The Australians won the 2024 world series title with a victory in Madrid. But the gap is closing between the two longtime leaders and a chasing group that includes a French squad that will be playing on home soil and the U.S. women’s team that took a silver in the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens in April.

—Just competing in Paris will complete a remarkable comeback for Raquel Kochhann, who recovered from breast cancer and more than 1 1/2 years out of competition to play for Brazil in the Perth leg of the world series in January.

Key Dates

The men’s tournament starts July 24, two days before the official opening ceremony, and concludes with the gold medal match on July 27. The women’s tournament will be staged July 28-30. The qualifying tournament for the one remaining spot in both of the 12-team Olympic competitions will be held June 21-23 in Monaco.

Reigning Champions

Men: Fiji.

Women: New Zealand.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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