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For most of the 19th century, men around the world spent an enormous amount of effort trying to prevent women from playing team sports.

When an inaugural women's rugby tour was proposed – in New Zealand in 1891 – it was quickly scuppered by public outrage. When two women's soccer teams met in a public match in Glasgow in 1881, they were attacked by an irate mob. The competitors were forced to flee the park in a horse-drawn carriage.

"The team of four grey horses was driven rapidly from the ground amid the jeers of the crowd," a local newspaper wrote. "[T]he players escaped with, let us hope, nothing worse than a serious fright."

Reports at the time cast the two desires – women wanting to play games and men wanting to forcibly prevent them from doing so – as in equally poor taste.

To say we've come a long way doesn't quite get it. Instead, we've turned completely around and tracked back toward what you'd like to hope is the default human reaction to anything – common decency.

Whatever else they get wrong, the modern Olympics have tended to get this end of things very right. The bedrock egalitarianism of this event leads the way in pushing, pulling and occasionally shaming the world into giving female athletes their due.

Canada tries very hard in that regard. Rio is where it starts to really pay off.

This country has a long, storied tradition when it comes to teams at the Summer Games – we are bad at that.

On a necessarily cynical level, every national sporting set-up is geared toward maximizing the number of Olympic medals won per dollar spent. Team sports skew the ratio.

One veteran Olympic reporter recalled asking an East German official why, when his country tended to be good at everything, it was so bad at hockey.

The official held up a finger: "Just one medal."

That imbalance has tended not to favour Canada, as we are temperamentally gifted at just one international sport. Everything else has to have the foundation dug out before it can begin to be built up. Until winning a bronze in women's soccer at London 2012, no Canadian summer team in a traditional sport had stood on a podium since 1936.

That trend could tip over here, and early.

On Saturday, rugby returns to the Games after a century's absence, beginning with the women's iteration of Rugby Sevens.

You can pack a lot of Sevens into a short time because of the brevity of the contests – just 14 minutes per. This is a muscular version of speed chess.

Some sports require a nuanced understanding to enjoy properly. Not this one. It's much lighter on tactics than the traditional 15-a-side game.

With so few competitors spread over so large a surface, it may have more in common with Red Rover than Rugby Union. There is a lot of running at full-tilt in space and less emphasis on mass collisions.

Maybe that's why so many people seem so stoked about an event many haven't ever watched. Unlike most newbie Olympic sports, this one can be pleasurably viewed without a printout of the rules sitting in your lap.

It would be very Canadian to play up the Participation nature of something new and untested. In keeping with recent national swagger adjustments, this team isn't doing that.

"People should have high expectations [of us] because we have high expectations of ourselves," squad talisman Jen Kish said before Saturday afternoon's debut against Japan.

Canada is the third-ranked team in the world. The Sevens competition moves as quickly as the game itself. The medal games will be Monday.

By that point, women's soccer and basketball will also be well under way.

This is where the entirely salutary global trend toward investing in women's athletics hurts Canada just a little. We're best at things other people don't do. Everybody else is long past getting around to playing basketball and soccer. They're into the aspirational stage of advancement.

Women's basketball provided the emblematic moment of Toronto's Pan Am Games, as Canada beat the United States in the gold-medal match.

Barring a Lourdes-level miracle, that won't happen here. The U.S. Pan Ams squad was Dream Team Lite. This is the real thing. The Americans haven't lost a single game at an Olympics in 24 years. This may be the most dominating team at any Olympic event, ever.

So Canada's double mission is to both survive and avoid the Americans until the finals. On that basis, every game in the round-robin is fraught. A second-place finish in Group B takes it out of the U.S. missile path. Finish third place, and you're in real trouble.

The soccer team, heroes of London, have already clambered over the first hurdle – a win against Australia in the opener.

You wouldn't have liked its chances coming into this thing – caught in an awkward developmental stage where the veterans may be too old and the newcomers too young. But there is something to be said for final hurrahs. This is that for Canada's golden generation.

Three teams, three distinct possibilities. When chef de mission Curt Harnett said that Canada was targeting "19-plus" medals here, these collectives would represent a major part of the "plus."

It is not an efficient use of Olympic resources to put your hope in your teams. Many of the very best ones here – the United States at basketball; Brazil at volleyball and soccer; Serbia at water polo – coalesce naturally, without any help from governments. They are national obsessions.

Canada doesn't have that. We have to work at it. For decades, that's all that was expected: a decent effort. But a steady national push to get more young girls involved as beginners is beginning to pay off at the highest level. This is the reward for doing the right thing.

"We hope we can pave the road for the next generation and make it easier to go through sport as women," rugby player Karen Paquin said recently.

That's the mission statement. Podiums would be a nice bonus.

Follow me on Twitter: @cathalkelly