Michaela Blyde had visualised herself becoming an Olympic gold medallist for much of the five years leading into Tokyo 2020.
Having watched on from the sidelines at Rio 2016 as a travelling reserve, billeted in a hotel outside of the athlete’s village as New Zealand fell at the final hurdle, Blyde made it her mission to not only appear at a Games, but to win it.
For eight months prior to departing for Japan, she meditated daily and imagined herself lining up in the tunnel at Tokyo Stadium, before walking out onto the pitch for the women’s Olympic sevens gold medal match.
How it started ➡️ how it’s going— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) August 1, 2021
In 2016, Michaela Blyde and Shiray Kaka were devastated when they didn’t make the playing side & spent the Games, outside of the village, as travelling reserves.
In 2021, they not only made the team but are Olympic champs!🥇 #Tokyo2020 #rugby pic.twitter.com/oWEeySuMBF
“The team we were up against were just grey figures because going into a final you've got no idea who you're going to come up against,” Blyde told World Rugby.
“You've got to beat the best to obviously make the final. And quite frankly, I really didn't care who we were up against as long as we were in the final.
“But, I guess, being in this environment and being a high-performance athlete, you've got to learn how to mentally prepare yourself for things like that.
“And for me personally, I was just so confident, so ready and extremely calm going into that final. Not because of who we were up against, but simply because we were confident in ourselves.
“We knew that we had the ability to win, we had all the reasons to win. It was just doing it. We literally just needed to play our game, hold onto the ball and just be patient.”
‘We finally did it’
Evidence of Blyde’s composure arrived less than a minute into the gold medal match against France as the winger made up 40 yards in a matter of seconds to take a pass from Sarah Hirini and race away under the posts to score the opening try.
It was her seventh try in just five matches in Tokyo and set the Black Ferns Sevens on their way to a 26-12 defeat of Les Bleues and an Olympic gold medal.
“Wow, I look back now and it's still quite a numb, blank feeling, the fact that we won,” Blyde added. “I think the initial emotion for all of us was obviously tears of joy, but for me it was relief.
“The fact that we've had this goal for so long and we finally achieved it, it was just like, ‘oh, my gosh, yes, we can relax now. We finally did it’.
“So, yeah, it's bizarre, it's a feeling that you can't really describe. You don't really understand what it feels like unless you're actually in the moment.
“And, so receiving the gold medal from Sarah and being surrounded by my team-mates and singing the national anthem was just such a proud moment. [It] makes you feel extremely proud to be a New Zealander.”
Blyde and her team-mates have been required to remain in managed isolation since returning to New Zealand from Tokyo, and have not seen family and friends for almost two months.
The squad will be able to return home on Monday and Blyde, who says her gold medal has become her “sleeping buddy”, is looking forward to celebrating the team’s success.
“[I want to] hug the people that I care about and love and have that human connection again,” she said.
“That's going to be so cool to be able to share this achievement with so many people that we love.
“We talk about our support systems and the people that help us get to this point, and without our family and friends and the support that we have around us, we definitely wouldn't have been able to go and achieve this massive goal when we've been away from our families now for exactly eight weeks.
“So, to be able to see them again and be able to have photos with them with a gold medal and celebrate this incredible achievement is something that we're itching to do.”
Becoming the best
Tokyo was not the first time that visualisation has helped Blyde achieve her goals on the rugby pitch.
At the end of 2016, she travelled to Dubai with the Black Ferns Sevens without a contract for the following year.
Blyde proceeded to score 10 tries in six matches as New Zealand won the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament. Eleven months later she was named World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year, an award she won again in 2018.
“I had endless people around me who believed I could do it,” Blyde said. “I guess I changed my mindset around as well.
“I went from 'oh, I'm in this team and I'm grateful for being in this team and I guess I could just hang around and be in the squad' to, ‘you know what, I can be the best rugby player in the world’.
“I believed in myself, it was just a matter of doing it.”
She added: “I visualised myself all the time, you know, getting the ball and running around people, chasing people down, scoring tries. And, once I continue to visualise that, then it eventually becomes reality.
“And then, I just built so much confidence in myself and after that Dubai tournament and 2016 it was like that little bit of a confidence boost that I can actually be this rugby player that I've strived to be. And I just went up from there.
“My confidence went up, my time on the field went up and I guess my maturity and experience as a rugby player grew as well.”
One player who Blyde continues to be in awe of is her Black Ferns Sevens captain, Hirini, who led New Zealand to the Olympic title less than six months after her mother, Ronnie Goss, died.
“To say that we've got her as our captain is very humbling and I’m very honoured to be on her team,” Blyde said of Hirini.
“It was extremely sad when her mum passed away and we were honestly on our toes thinking, will she come back in our environment? And to be honest, if she hadn't we wouldn't have blamed her.
“I couldn't imagine what she was going through, I really can't. So, the fact that she was able to do what she needed to do to focus on her wellbeing, to then come back into our environment, play a couple [of] tournaments and then be away from her family for two months, it takes an incredibly strong person to be able to do that.
“But, honestly… it’s crazy to think that she did come back into our environment and play the best rugby that I reckon she's played in a very, very long time and still be the captain that we needed her to be at the Olympic Games.”