Before women's rugby sevens captain Jen Kish took the Olympic playing field on Saturday morning, she took to social media. Beneath a moody Instagram portrait in her Team Canada sweater, she quoted the aphorism, "The devil whispers, 'You cannot withstand the storm.' The warrior replies, 'I am the storm.'"
Kish, an iron-armed forward with a hallmark blend of tattoos and dimples, can play like a tornado, shredding through opponents.
But the tempest around Kish on the field this weekend was not the kind she anticipated. The Canadian side, ranked third in the world and a medal contender, won its first two matches Saturday, routing both opponents for a combined point total of 83-0.
But it was as if a whole different team came out on Sunday: the Canadians were sloppy, fumbling and distracted, and they were demolished 22-0 by Great Britain.
The British side, ranked fourth, hardly had to break a sweat as Canada continually missed passes, dropped balls and botched line-outs.
After those ugly 14 minutes, Canada's rugby medal quest suddenly appeared a much longer shot.
And when the quarter-final match began four hours later, it seemed at first that Canada was headed from bad to worse. The French side, seeded fifth, scored just two minutes in and the Canadians looked rattled: In the swift game of sevens, a squad that can snatch the momentum quickly can often pull well ahead. Canada missed more passes.
But then Kayla Moleschi saw an opening and broke for the tryline, tying the game 5-5 – and the storm broke. "We just thought, okay, we got ourselves a game now," Kish said later.
From then on it was ugly and scrappy, but Canada ended it ahead 15-5.
"On Day 1, we gelled really well but you're not playing the top teams in the world so you're gonna look like you're really performing," Kish said after the game. "Day 2, as you can see, we made too many errors … but we didn't give up, we kept fighting … and as you can see we walked away with the win."
In Monday's semi-final, the team faces world leaders Australia. It's the toughest possible route to a medal game, but Ghislaine Landry said her team draws confidence from having beaten it before, including in a match just a few months ago.
"You gotta play those top teams at some point to get where we want to go," coach John Tait added.
The Australian side has played lyrical, merciless rugby in almost all its outings here – but much of the appeal of rugby sevens is how the fast, short games can surprise, and on Sunday afternoon Australia suffered a shocking near-loss to the United States, squeaking out a dignity-saving tie with a try in the last seconds of play.
That game, and Canada's battle with France, delivered the kind of punch that the International Olympic Committee was hoping for when it gave the nod to include rugby sevens in the Rio Games for the first time. It's television friendly – rugby for people with an attention-span issue. The speed of play and the leaping tackles have drawn appreciative roars from Brazilian fans in the half-empty stadium – this is not a rugby country, but this is an accessible game.
Fiji in particular has become a crowd favourite, playing rugby as technically precise as it is joyful: The women often grin on the field, even as they are sent flying by a tackle at the knees.
Women's rugby still suffers from a shallow pool, however, leading to horribly unbalanced contests, in which the likes of Kenya and Colombia, relatively new entrants to the sport, were annihilated in matches much like the lopsided contests familiar from women's Olympic hockey pools.
Landry acts, along with Kish and forward Karen Paquin, as the bedrock of the Canadian side, and she had delivered on Saturday. She scored a try just 30 seconds into the team's opening game, against Japan, and adding another and three conversions. But she missed all the conversions Sunday, and made a series of unforced errors. "It might have been nerves and it might have been that it's Day 2 but at this point it doesn't really matter," she said after the loss to Great Britain.
Her moment of redemption came at the end of the match with France: With just a second left on the clock she leapt for a pass, wove through the blue defence to slide with the ball over the try line, then shot a mile into the air, her disastrous day at least in part redeemed.
"It's not the game we were looking for, not the win we were looking for, but a win's a win at this point," she said, leaving the field.