The New Zealanders entered the Olympics as the world sevens series and World Cup Sevens champions but had some close calls on the way to the final, including a golden-point extra time semifinal win over Fiji.
The French, who were unbeaten in their first five games in Tokyo, trailed after the first minute and couldn't quite match the intensity of the Black Ferns.
Michaela Blyde scored in the first minute for New Zealand and, after the French cut the margin to two points with a try from Caroline Rouin, it was mostly one-way.
Veteran Portia Woodman made a break but was chased down, earning a penalty that led to Gayle Broughton scoring in the left corner.
Stacey Fluhler ran an inside angle to score under the posts, her fifth try of the tournament, to give New Zealand a 19-5 halftime lead. Anne-Cecile Ciofani scored and converted for France to again cut the lead to seven points before Tyla Nathan-Wong sprinted over to seal the win.
Alowesi Nakoci scored two tries and made two try-saving tackles as Fiji beat Britain 21-12 in the bronze medal playoff. It was the first Olympic medal ever for Fijian women. The Fijian men's team has won back-to-back Olympic titles.
“I think after what we went through as a team, we deserved it," Fiji player Viniana Riwai said of the bronze.
The Fijian squad has been in camp since the first week of April, unable to see their families because of surging COVID-19 cases in their Pacific island nation.
“We feel emotional, with what is going on in Fiji right now," Riwai said. "We dreamed about this, and we won’t forget this moment.”
There were two new countries on the podium in the women's tournament, with Australia finishing fifth and Canada, the bronze medalist in Rio, failing to reach the quarterfinals.
The Australians had a 17-7 win over the U.S. women to clinch fifth a day after the Americans rallied from 12 points down to win their group-stage decider.
China rallied from two tries down to beat the Russian team 22-10 in a seventh-place playoff between two countries making their debuts in rugby sevens.
The Japanese women’s team formed a line and made a ceremonial bow toward the main grandstand, getting some polite applause. It has been a difficult tournament for Japan, which was unable to use home ground advantage to improve on its performance in Brazil.
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