Canada rugby sevens star Nate Hirayama, who ranks third in career scoring on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, has announced his retirement.
The 33-year-old from Richmond, B.C., was Canada's co-captain at the recent Tokyo Olympics where he served as the Canadian flag-bearer along with basketball's Miranda Ayim at the opening ceremonies. They were the first members of a team sport to lead Canada's delegation at the Parade of Nations opening a Summer Games.
In an Instagram post Wednesday, Hirayama recalled meeting Fiji star Waisale Serevi in Dubai on the Canadian's first visit to the Dubai Sevens.
’For the people who don’t know who the man is or for some of the Canadian contingent, I felt like I was meeting Gretzky. I was 18 at the time and he told me that I had another 20 years left in my playing career, “minimum." He was 38, still carving the World Series, still the man," Hirayama wrote.
"Well I’m not gonna play for as long as the King did, but 15 years later I’m sitting here reflecting on my career, trying to figure out where the time went, and feeling nothing but gratitude. Grateful for my family and friends, the supporters, the staff, my opposition.
"But mostly I’m grateful for my teammates and to this game that has given me so much. It’s been an honour to wear the Maple Leaf on my chest and to have been able to compete against the world’s best, alongside my friends. Truly a dream come true for a kid from Richmond who fell in love with rugby in high school."
Hirayama said he looks forward "to supporting the next/future gen of rugby players both here in Canada and around the world however I can."
Hirayama was Canada's playmaker in sevens, as well as its kicker. He collected 1,859 points on the World Series, including 147 tries. That ranks him 15th all-time in tries scored and No. 1 among Canadians, two ahead of Justin Douglas.
"Not only a fantastic person but a great individual and person and a proud Canadian," said former Canada sevens coach Geraint John.
He also won 23 caps with the Canadian 15s side between 2008 and 2015, including six games at the Rugby World Cup.
Hirayama stuck with the Canadian program through thick and thin, leading a player boycott with co-captain Harry Jones in the fall of 2018, upset at Rugby Canada's contract offer and training conditions.
The Canadian men failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics but finished eighth in Tokyo.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press