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There is no more brutal area in an Olympics than the media mixed zone after a deciding game.

The losers are forced to come out and stand alongside the winners. Three feet this way, someone's whooping it up and being mobbed by passing teammates. Three feet the other, someone else might be sobbing through an apology.

This 10- or 20-foot stretch is where the agony and ecstasy overlap. Amidst enormous expectation, Canadian rugby came down on the right side of that divide on Monday.

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Opinion: Kelly: Canadian women pave the road for future athletes

This morning's headline is that the women's rugby sevens won a bronze medal. The subtext is that they had to win this game. It is not hyperbolic to say that the near-term future of rugby as a going public concern hinged on the result.

They'd already had one small disaster on the day, looking flaccid and out of sorts in an afternoon semi-final trashing by Australia.

Several Canadian players wept on the field after the game. There was the gold medal gone. The team exited the arena in a protective clump, refusing to speak.

Head coach John Tait took the duty, trying to jiu-jitsu away the blame by praising Australian quality to the skies.

Directly beside him, Australian captain Sharni Williams was trilling with delight: "It still hasn't hit me yet!"

Tait's eyes widened and his speech became more clipped.

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It was a different team that came out to face Great Britain three or so hours later. All rugby is brutal, but this was Canadian-style ferociousness. At one point, Kelly Russell Dave Schultzed an opponent, pulling her jersey over her head.

One of the great qualities of rugby sevens is that no lead is truly safe. But this contest was headed in only one direction after the first three minutes.

Canada had surrendered meekly to Britain in the final group game. Clearly, that was on someone's mind.

"Maybe they thought they had us," captain Jen Kish said afterward.

The divide between what they thought was coming at them and what finally arrived undid the British. It ended 33-10.

For many Canadians, it's a good little Olympic story that you may say "Hey, see that game?" about, and then forget.

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For many of the women in red, those 20 minutes were years in the making. Tait began putting this team together in 2011. The core members relocated to a suburb of Victoria to train full-time.

"It's been almost every day together for the last five years," back Ghislaine Landry said.

It was also a good deal of money. In the Olympic cycle leading up to London – when rugby had been made an Olympic sport but would not yet be played – Own the Podium gave the rugby sevens program $55,000 in funding.

In the four years since, that amount jumped to more than $7-million. That's in the same ballpark as disciplines such as kayak/canoe and diving, which offer multiple medal opportunities. This was spent in the hopes of getting just one.

Understanding that background, the team's advance billing seemed a little ominous. They sought and received enormous attention for a non-traditional sport. At some point, they'd beaten everyone here. They are ranked third in the world.

Unlike the women's soccer side four years ago, the rugby squad was fully expected to bring home hardware.

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Nevertheless, outside of locker-room pep talks, losing is always an option. But given the lead-in, it has rarely been a worse one.

"We're funded to win," Tait said. "There was a lot hanging in the balance – people's jobs and the girls' livelihoods."

They had those 20 minutes not just to justify the past five years, but to ensure the next five or 10. And they did it.

You hear a great deal about seizing the moment in sports. This was an instance in which a group refused to let many moments – all that effort and investment of time and money – be frittered away. On a ratio of what was to be gained and what could be lost, it was genuinely heroic.

After it ended, you could see the release in their primal screams.

This time Canada ran into the mixed zone. Kish leaped in the air as she approached the barriers, landed with a metaphoric "TA-DA" and said, "I feel like a superhero!"

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Others leaned over the wrought-iron fences, looking stunned. All made mention of the disappointment of letting gold slip away, but they didn't sound as if they believed it themselves. For now, this was enough. Just enough, but still.

Great Britain came to Rio with much the same expectation as Canada. In a place that cares deeply about traditional, 15-a-side rugby, this was a chance to stake a real place at the table for a bowdlerized version played by women. They missed it.

The Britons were the ones in tears this time, tromping past the press with glazed expressions.

Britain's captain, Emily Scarratt, took the media punishment duty. She managed to hold it together until her final thought: "If we managed to inspire some people back home, then we're doing a decent job. We're just sorry we didn't bring home a medal."

Scarratt's voice cracked. Her face crumpled – that terrible moment before someone begins to weep. She didn't know quite what to do with herself. Several British journalists stood there staring at her in embarrassed silence until a minder took her by the shoulder and led her away.

That was the moment Kish entered the scene. Scarratt fled ahead of her.

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It's cruel, but if it wasn't, nobody would care.

Now Canada gets what Britain gave up – a chance to build success upon success.

Less than 10 minutes after it had ended, Tait was already laying a new foundation for Tokyo: "If there's any girls out there looking to play in 2020, contact me directly at jtait@rugbycanada.ca."

How many will take up that challenge because of just 20 minutes? We'll know in four years, when they get another 20 to top it.

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