It might have been 6am on the Gold Coast, but the champagne was already popping at the Levi household.
“It’s never too early to start drinking when your two daughters win Commonwealth Games gold,” Maddi Levi said, after she and sister Teagan helped Australia’s women win the rugby sevens gold medal.
“I’m sure [mum will] be on it all day, celebrating.”
The Levis spoke with their family back home after the dominant 22-12 victory over Fiji at Coventry Stadium.
“They definitely had tears but lots of swearing!” Levi said.
“We got to stand next to each other [on the dais] so it’s pretty sentimental. We’ve achieved a Commonwealth Games medal, not many people can do that in their lives, let alone have their sister side by side.”
Hard road pays off for the Pearls
It’s been a long way back to the top of the podium for the Australians, since winning the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Four years ago on the Gold Coast, they lost to New Zealand in the decider.
Then, there was the loss to Fiji in the quarter-finals at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Since then, the team has regenerated and started the climb back to where they had become accustomed, after winning the World Series.
In Birmingham, they stumbled in the pool stage, with a loss to Fiji.
But they got quickly their groove back with victory over New Zealand in the semis.
“I think the team ran out today knowing they weren’t going to lose,” coach Tim Walsh said.
The team thrived on the crowd’s incredible energy – there was a wall of noise, and plenty of enthusiastic karaoke renditions of classics blasting over the PA.
“We’ve gone from having no crowds to minimal crowds all year,” Levi said.
“So just having that atmosphere really helps push you over the line and helps when your legs are dying and your lungs are dying, that’s for sure.”
Sharni Williams is one of the few members of the ‘original’ brigade left in the women’s sevens program and is excited by the new talent coming through.
“Just seeing them play free footy and footy without fears, phenomenal,” Williams said.
“You look at Australian sport at the moment, look at women’s sport, and there’s so much contention for different sports.
“But by winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, or going to the Olympics, that’s what’s enticing players to come and play rugby.”
It worked for the Levi sisters, who were also being courted by Aussie rules and rugby league.
And Maddi now wants to help lure others.
“When I first started, I aspired to be like Charlotte Caslick and the likes of Ellia Green,” she said.
“Now that I’m in this role, I’d love to inspire the younger generation. The opportunities you get, you can’t get with most sports.”
It’s also been quite a journey for the coach, Walsh.
He re-joined the women’s team last year, after spending a couple of years leading the men.
And he’s now preparing his succession plan featuring one of the greats of the sport.
“I started [the women’s program] 10 years ago, and we built it from the ground up,” he said.
“Emilee Cherry is the assistant coach and she knows exactly how I operate and the vision for the future, so she’s a winner. I think she’s had two tournaments; she’s had two wins. So as a coach it’s a good sign for the future. “
Australian men finish fourth
Australia’s men went down to New Zealand 26-12 in the bronze medal match.
They were outpaced and never really challenged the New Zealanders.
“Sadly, I don’t think we put in a performance that was probably worthy of winning tonight,” coach John Manenti said.
“Obviously we fired some shots but until we until we execute those plays, we’re not gonna win big games against the top teams.”
Player Josh Turner is hopeful of bouncing back quickly for the final World Series event in Los Angeles and then September’s World Cup.
“We’ve got a team full of 20-year-olds which is crazy to think that another year under their belt, another Commonwealth Games, we’re going the right way, just got to put it all together.”