7s RUGBY WORLD CUP
7s EDGE IN UTAH, USA
Park City, Utah, which sits high in Wasatch Mountains, was home to the 2002 Winter Olympics. But for the past week it has been the training grounds for the Fiji Airways Fijian 7s as they prepare for the Rugby World Cup Sevens at AT&T Park in San Francisco, next weekend.
At nearly 2,150 metres in elevation, the mountain air in Park City is thin. Fiji Airways Fijian 7s coach Gareth Baber hopes that training at this high altitude, far from the distractions of California, will give his team an endurance advantage as they compete against the winner of the Japan-Uruguay match July 21 at sea level. “This has been a very positive environment,” Baber said. “Training at altitude and the advantage it gives us was one of the elements in our decision to train here. We were looking for a good training facility, good accommodation, and good food. This was the best bang for the buck.”
The team’s training facility is nestled behind a large hill that provides plenty of privacy. Not far away is the famous Deer Valley Ski Resort and the Olympic Park. There’s no snow in July, but the temperatures are cooler up in the mountains than down in the nearby Salt Lake Valley, where July temperatures typically range from 3540 C.
“The weather has been dry and clear and we’ve got good air to breathe. This allows us to slow things down and really coach without it being too hot or having rain,” Baber said.
Team captain Seremaia Tuwai said the first couple of days training at altitude were hard. “We were struggling with the thin air. But now we’re running hard and have adjusted.”
The team is using GPS monitors that are placed in each team member’s kit during training sessions to measure physical activity such as total distance run and maximum speeds. “We know just how fit they are,” Baber said. “We’re having good responses to the training.”
Baber said it is a bit difficult not knowing yet who they will face in their opening match.
“This challenge runs through the whole tournament,” he added, noting that he has a lot of respect for both potential opponents.
“We match up well and both teams have their own style of play,” Baber said.
The Fiji 7s squad is young, Tuwai said.
“We have lots of potential. We came here to improve on what we do. We are in a good position.” According to the website www. rwcsevens.com, the Fijians are the tournament’s second seed. South Africa is the number one seed: “The top 14 seeds are ranked according to points accrued on the 2016-17 series and first seven rounds of 2018 in Dubai, Cape Town, Sydney, Hamilton, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Hong Kong.” The team will fly to San Francisco on Monday.
The Fiji Airways Fijiana team, the seventh seed, will play Spain, the 10th seed, on July 20.
■Steve Thomsen is the Director of International Media Studies at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Fiji Airways Fijian 7s head coach Gareth Baber monitors training at Park City, Utah on July 12, 2018.