After the pandemic halted their momentum, America’s rugby sevens teams

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CHULA VISTA, California — The American men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams know something about momentum in the sport. That’s funny, because it can crystallize out of nowhere and disappear just as easily.

Both teams turned lackluster performances at the 2018 World Cup into spectacular 2019 campaigns, finishing second in the world and their highest rankings ever. They hoped the success would get them into a medal contest at the Tokyo Games in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced teams to hit the brakes. After more than a year with just a handful of matches during the global crisis, they will try to regain their magic. Olympics Monday is the first day of the rugby sevens tournament.

“Losing 15 months has definitely hurt us in terms of momentum and the way forward,” men’s coach Mike Friday said at the team’s training camp this month. “But we are not alone. Many teams will feel inadequate going in. There will be some fear, anticipation and anxiety.”

At this year’s Olympics, the men’s team was selected from the so-called death row, which includes a perennial powerhouse in South Africa, a tough squad from promising Ireland and Kenya.

More importantly, some of the best players on the American men’s team are returning from their injuries, including team captain Madison Hughes and Folau Niua.

On paper, the women’s team has an easier way to medal. He should beat China and Japan in the group stage and maybe knock out the Australians. Canada and New Zealand are among the toughest marks in the knockout stage.

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