Monday, September 12, 2016

Madison Hughes Talks Olympics, Upcoming Season

The Olympics have been the pinnacle of the American rugby experience so far. Nothing has matched it in terms of attention. Now that the tournament is a month old we thought it would be a good time to catch up with U.S.A. team captain Madison Hughes to reflect on the Olympics as well as look forward to the new season.

TIAR: The team was obviously disappointed not to make it to the quarterfinals in Rio. What was the mood in the room like after the finish of pool play and how proud were you as captain that you went on to finish in 9th?

Madison Hughes: We were devastated in the locker room at the end of pool play. We went into the Olympics with really high expectations, and believed we would be there challenging for medals at the end of the competition. Falling short of our goal in the manner we did really hurt.

TIAR: This is a broad question, but what do you think was the difference in the end between making the quarterfinals and missing out? Any regrets not being able to pick up a few extra points?

MH: It’s hard to put your finger on what the differences were exactly. We didn’t come close to the levels we expect of ourselves and when you play good teams, like Argentina and Fiji, they will make you pay. We were very disappointed with our performance against Argentina, and that’s the game that really cost us.

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Absolutely there are regrets. To have everything my team and I had worked for come down to 1 point is heartbreaking. Playing poorly against Argentina, and starting slowly against Brazil came back to haunt us. On a personal level, I wish I could have made just one more conversion. Thankfully I didn’t miss any conversions inside the 15’s, as I’m not sure I would be able to forgive myself if I had. But I will have the touchline conversions I missed against Brazil and Fiji in mind for all of my practice kicks going forward.

TIAR: You stayed on in Rio. What was it like being able to experience the Olympics as a spectator? What was the athletes’ village like?

MH: I am really thankful that I was able to stay on after the rugby was over, as I got to enjoy a different side of the experience and not leave with a bitter taste in my mouth! As a sports lover, it was an awesome experience, I went to 13 other events, and had an absolute blast seeing some of the best athletes in the world perform at their peak.

The athletes’ village was fun, although not as wild as some media reports would have you believe! It was cool being around the rest of Team USA, and meeting some world-famous athletes. On the other hand, it brought some added distractions that you don’t see on the World Series, which doesn’t make it as straightforward to remain completely focused on playing with everything going on around you.

TIAR: Moving forward, what changes do you anticipate to the team going forward?

MH: For the last year the focus for everyone has been preparing for Rio, so some players will look to pursue 15’s ambitions, but for the most part I think we’ll have a similar group going forward. Any changes will gain clarity as we move into the season, but we have a good group together who believe in each other and believe in our journey. While we were devastated not to do better at the Olympics, that won’t break this team, and we’ll come back strongly once the World Series gets underway.

TIAR: Do you think the structure is right in America to continue to develop players for the national team and increase competition?

MH: If someone had come up with a perfect system, then it’d be in place and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The US is so big, and the rugby community so spread out, that we face with challenges other countries don’t have to consider. A one-size-fits-all dictation of how to develop rugby in the United States is probably doomed to fail. I do think that some of the changes we’ve seen in the past few years, such as the rise of the Olympic Development Academies, are very positive developments and will really pay dividends in a few years, once they’re firmly established and have worked out the best methods in their region. More high-level tournaments are also crucial as there is no replacement for high-level matches.

Longer term, continuing to develop and entrench youth rugby is vital. If you have that rugby background at a younger age, and can play in combination with other sports as you grow up, you develop that ‘rugby sense’ earlier, and so maximize your athletic ability.

TIAR: How nice is it to be able to get back at it in just a couple of months on the Series?

MH: It’ll be good to get back into the Series. It’s such a privilege to represent the USA on the world stage, and I’m so lucky to travel the world with my teammates playing rugby. I’m also looking forward to excising some of the demons of the Olympics, and getting back on the field and playing again will help begin that process.

TIAR: What are your favorite memories from the Olympics?

MH: The Opening Ceremony was an unbelievable experience. Such an unbelievable maelstrom of emotions ran through me, from pride in marching as part of Team USA to awe at the stadium and all the spectators. I’ve never felt so large and so small at the same time! Walking into that stadium with all my teammates is something I’ll never forget.

1 comment:

  1. They spent too much time reading their own press clippings. Tough to get your head in the game when it is floating in the clouds like a hot air balloon. Carlin should have had more game time. Anyone can catch the fastest player in rugby when he is sitting on the bench.