Rugby: Rugby comes first for Speedy Isles

US rugby player Carlin Isles
US rugby player Carlin IslesPHOTO: WORLD RUGBY
US rugby player Carlin Isles
US rugby player Carlin IslesPHOTO: WORLD RUGBY

American unlikely to make cut for Rio sprint team but stands good chance for medal in sevens

Much has been made about Carlin Isles' attempt to represent the United States in two sports at August's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A key member of the US rugby sevens team, Isles, who boasts a wind-assisted personal best of 10.13 seconds in the 100m dash, has declared his intention to make the American sprint team, having failed to make the cut in 2012.

But, in a Skype interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Isles, often dubbed rugby's fastest man, made it clear where his priorities lay with just over four months to go to the Olympics.

"Of course the focus is on rugby training. I will be a little disappointed if I don't make the sprint team, but rugby has to come first, track second," said the American, who will be in town for the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens next weekend.

 

"Right now I set aside about three hours for track training every week. If it happens, it happens. I just want to see how far I can go."

 

Isles, 26, has not selected a race to clock a time better than 10.16sec, which would qualify him for the US Olympic trials in July.

But a look at last season's best 100m times suggests he is right to concentrate on rugby.

After all, his 10.13sec mark would rank him 31st in the US last year. Each country can only have three representatives in the 100m, and the third-fastest American time last year was 9.86sec.

Even if he somehow makes the cut, finishing on the podium in the 100m is considerably tougher, what with an elite field led by world record holder Usain Bolt.

On the contrary, the US rugby team have a better chance of clinching a medal in Rio. The sevens game, played on the same-sized pitch as the 15-a-side game, levels the playing field by opening up the game and speeding up play.

That it is seven-a-side means countries, especially those without a deep pool of players compared to traditional powerhouses like New Zealand and Australia, can also field more competitive line-ups and rival the establishment.

For instance, Fiji, who have never gone past the quarter-final stage of the 15s World Cup, have already won two sevens World Cups.

The US sevens team have also improved considerably. They are currently fifth in the World Series standings and last December, they beat New Zealand for the first time, winning 14-12 in the pool stage of the Dubai leg.

That win has given the team a huge boost ahead of Rio.

Isles' team-mate Nate Augspurger said: "The gold medal is our goal, absolutely. We won't get ahead of ourselves, but we have a lot of confidence and we will keep trying to climb the rankings now to get a better seeding for the Olympics."

For Isles, the decision to focus on rugby is simpler. It is, after all, the sport that changed his life and gave him a shot at Olympic glory.

In 2012, after failing in his Olympic bid, Isles, armed with his last US$500 (S$678), packed his bags and headed to Colorado to join his first rugby club, the Gentlemen of Aspen RFC.

He had stumbled onto the sport while watching films on biomechanics. The rest, as they say, is history.

"When I started watching rugby, it was love at first sight. I had only US$500 and it was all or nothing. If I didn't make it, I'd probably be back home working a regular job now," Isles recalled.

"Rugby has given me another chance at the Olympic dream and I won't take anything for granted."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'RUGBY COMES FIRST FOR SPEEDY ISLES'. Print Edition | Subscribe