Chirstchurch Sevens player Sam Dickson's knee injury recovers in time for the Rio Olympics

By Gordon Findlater

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics begin in five weeks time. Sports reporter Gordon Findlater counts down to Rio, highlighting some of Canterbury’s brightest talents. This week, we look at sevens player Sam Dickson and his miraculous return from injury.
With his knee holding up to the test, Sam Dickson accomplished the goal of going to the Rio Olympics that just a few month ago he would have seen as a long shot. Photo / Christchurch Star
With his knee holding up to the test, Sam Dickson accomplished the goal of going to the Rio Olympics that just a few month ago he would have seen as a long shot. Photo / Christchurch Star

Less than three months ago Sam Dickson lay in the middle of the field in agony at the Hong Kong sevens tournament.

His teammates were celebrating a last minute game winning try against Kenya. But Dickson was contemplating how bad the knee injury he had just sustained could be.

"First of all, I thought it was just my MCL which is usually about eight weeks out. Then I went and had an MRI and found out the next day the anterior cruciate ligament) was ruptured which wasn't great news. To be honest, I thought Rio was completely out of the picture."

A ruptured ACL would in almost any circumstance mean surgery and at least six months out of the game.

The lure of the Olympic Games was enough for the 26-year-old to take a risk and go the non-traditional method of attempting to recover from the injury without surgery. A decision that would keep his Rio dream alive.

The odds were not in Dickson's favour. However, his knee recovered to the point where he could take part in the sevens trial camp three weeks ago.

"I hadn't done much field stuff by then. To be honest, I didn't have a lot of confidence going into that, but I managed to get through it and I was pretty happy with the way i went."

With his knee holding up to the test, Dickson accomplished the goal that just a few month ago he would have seen as a long shot. Being named in the sevens squad for the Rio Olympics.

Sevens didn't enter Dickson's mind until 2012, spending 17 years coming through the grades as an emerging flanker.

Dickson's rugby career began as a five-year-old playing midget rugby for West Melton. He would play through the grades for the club, even playing afternoon games in the country competition after playing for his secondary school team, St Thomas, in the morning.

After going on to play first XV rugby in his final year at St Thomas, Dickson spent two years playing for Marist Albion colts before rejoining his boyhood club, West Melton.

He would go on to captain the side as well as lead the Ellesmere and Canterbury Country representative teams.

He made the Canterbury NPC wider-training squad in 2012. But the catalogue of talented loose forwards in the Canterbury ranks meant opportunities were limited with the likes of Nasi Manu, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jordan Taufua among the ranks.

Sir Gordon Tietjens was looking for a new crop of players to bring into his sevens squad in 2012.

Former Canterbury NPC coach Tabai Matson recognised something in Dickson that he believed could translate to the seven-man game and had the flanker attend a sevens training camp.

After impressing at the camp, Dickson was selected to play in the 2012 Safari sevens tournament in Kenya. It was the first sevens tournament he had played in, having never previously played at secondary school or provincial level.

"It was a bit of a shock to the system really. The altitude in Kenya was pretty high, plus we played six games in one day."

Tietjens was impressed with the debut and selected Dickson in the sevens squad for the upcoming Gold Coast tournament. Tweaking a hamstring a day out from the tournament, though, meant he was forced to wait for his New Zealand debut.

Just a month later, he had his opportunity in Dubai. Dickson was contracted for the remainder of the season and claimed his first IRB sevens title in December 2012 in South Africa. He would go on to win that year's IRB Sevens World Series with New Zealand.

Dickson's career could have taken a very different path at one stage.

In 2010, he was asked by a friend to play a game of AFL (Australian Rules) in Christchurch

"I played a few games, learned the rules and just got better and better. All of a sudden i was playing for New Zealand and went to the International Cup in 2011."

Following his performances for New Zealand in Australia, Dickson was scouted by Australian club side St Kilda. But at 22, he was seen as being slightly too old to mould into a professional.

With his path now well and truly heading towards Rio, Dickson is confident having another four weeks to get back to full fitness.

If New Zealand is able to win gold at the sevens, the victory will surely taste even sweeter for Dickson who, at the moment, is feeling healthy, lucky and ready to play.

Rio's six-day sevens tournament begins on August 6.

New Zealand Sevens Rio Olympics squad:

Scott Curry (C), Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes, Akira Ioane, Reiko Ioane, Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson, Augustine Pulu, Teddy Stanaway, Regan Ware, Joe Webber, Sonny Bill Williams.

- Christchurch Star

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