Rillio Rio Rii is the Commonwealth Men’s Single Scull Beach Rowing Sprint Champion, beating former UK and Canadian National Coastal Rowing Team members to secure gold for Vanuatu.
The humble champion told the Daily Post, “It would mean the world to any sports man or woman to have a gold in any sport, but to take the first Gold for my country is an amazing feeling”.
Rio cried tears of joy as Vanuatu’s national anthem was played to a huge crowd at Sandbanks beach in England and at this point he was starting to realise the significance of being the first athlete in Vanuatu to win a GOLD in a Commonwealth Federation event.
As reported by British Rowing, the crowd had been behind him from day 1, “Rio sprinted to the line and dived for the buzzer just ahead of England’s Gian-Luc Angiolini who took silver …Titled “the people’s champion” because of his raw talent and passion, Rio was roared on by the crowds who lined the beach to take the historic gold,” the crowds enthusiasm was not lost on Rio who told the Post “Everyone was cheering for me (Rio! Rio! Rio!) and it felt like I was in my own country, Vanuatu, because everybody knows me and everybody is standing up and yelling out for me to win”.
The event had huge crowds, beaches and high level athletes who were all shocked at Rio literally coming out of nowhere, the excitement of the competition and Rios success may pave the way for coastal beach rowing to become a permanent Commonwealth Games Sport, as observed by Lee Spear, President of the Oceania Rowing Confederation “coastal rowing is seen as the way forward for Rowing to return to the Commonwealth Games….these Commonwealth Coastal Rowing Beach Sprints’ Championships were sanctioned by the Commonwealth Games Association… the medals presented carry Commonwealth Games medal status”.
But success and reward doesn’t come easily, as Rio’s coach Andrew Mackenzie told the Daily Post “The win was a great achievement by Rio Rii that he deserved. Rio has been training two to three times a day six days a week for the past eight months and the hard work has paid off…he showed that athletes from developing countries around the world can compete in this new form of the sport and it is even possible that he may one day become world champion”.
As Jess Richardson, the Vanuatu Rowing Association Director of Rowing told the daily Post “this level of success doesn’t happen overnight and without the personal Olympic Solidarity assistance provided to Rio by VASANOC, the financial assistance provided to the rowing club through the sponsorship agreement with the National Bank of Vanuatu and the International Rowing Federation (FISA) none of this would be possible.
We asked whether other people can get involved and Jess told us “Rio learnt to row at the Port Vila Rowing Club, the club has learn to row sessions every Saturday for anyone over the age of 14, not everyone wants to be a world champion and they just want to row for fun, but if you do want to be a champion that is where it starts”.
Only a day after his big win Rio was back into training for his next big regatta, the World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria in September, having moved to the Rowing Australia training facility in Italy, Rio is again rowing 16 km in the morning, followed by weights and then another session in the afternoon. When he returns to Australia he will keep it up as he works toward making the cut to represent Vanuatu at the Tokyo Olympics.