US sprinter chasing Olympic dream in sevens

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2013
Fairfax NZ

Carlin Isles is the world's fastest rugby player, blink and you'll miss him.

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Don't blink this weekend or you might miss perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to the sport of rugby sevens.

Meet Carlin Isles, a man who talks fast and runs faster and whose Olympic Dream is pushing rugby into the American mainstream.

Long has the rugby world wondered what might be if a top African American athlete was to cross codes from the likes of American football and track and field.

Now an affable 23-year-old former Ashland University running back with a personal best 100m time of 10.24s is providing the answer.

Doubters need only reference the viral YouTube video simply entitled 'Carlin Isles. Olympic Dream' or read the stories run on ESPN.

Believers can tune in to the Wellington leg of the IRB World Sevens series where the United States wing can't wait to share his ''vision'' with the New Zealand public on Friday night.

Isles' journey to Westpac Stadium is part of a leap of faith for a man who once had NFL scouts salivating over his speed and, only a year ago, was preparing for the US Olympic 100m trials.

''I wanted to go to the Olympics and be one of the top sprinters in the world,'' he said today.
''But I had a vision, God switched my plan and my heart and my decision. I had a vision of rugby and I wanted other people to see that vision.''

And so it came that as he searched the internet in search of running techniques, Isles stumbled on some sevens footage.

Something urged him to send an email to USA rugby and the rest, as they say, is history.

''I was getting read for the Olympic trials after qualifying for it and I don't know, I just decided I wanted to play rugby. 

''I was watching it and I thought, 'I don't want to wait another four years in case I don't make it [the Olympics]. I want to be known. 

''I had a vision, I didn't want to be a back-seat guy for another four years. I thought I had too much talent.

''I'm not a person who says I'm just going to do this and not let anything else in, my mind is always open to let God direct me, so I just went with it. So far it's paying off.''

Isles looks every bit the sprinter, but a shade under 80kg and without an ounce of fat on his frame, its easy to wonder how he copes with the contact element of his new sport.

Then again, if defenders can't touch you, what's the big deal? Since scoring a try 46 seconds into his world series debut on the Gold Coast, against New Zealand, he's scored five more times.

And when you are as confident as Isles, to steal an American slogan, impossible is nothing.

''The NFL scouts they loved me because I had a 4.1 second 40m and that drew a lot of attention,'' he said of his football prospects. 
''I never thought I was too small, I always believed in myself. Anything that I choose I have to prove myself. 

''One thing you can't teach is speed and everyone is looking for speed. I could play so I wasn't worried about my size because I have heart. But I decided to do track and go professional and pursue that instead.''

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And Isles is not exaggerating when he talks about his best times. He once ran a wind assisted 10.13s over 100m and has shared the track with the likes of London Olympic bronze medallist Justin Gatlin.

''I know I could have gone faster. I wasn't even peaking yet,'' Isles said. 
''I had a training partner Michael Rodgers who went 9.8s outdoor. They asked him to the Olympics in the 4x100m and he got fourth by a tenth of a second.''

For those imagining Isles as a brash American, his manner is far from it, a polite and engaging interview without a hint of arrogance.

He acknowledges he's on a steep learning curve with the fitness requirements and lateral vision required on a rugby field and respects all of his opponents.

But Isles is also embracing the interest he's creating in his new code and the YouTube video that's been viewed by 2.6 million people.

''It was after we played in South Africa, I was heading home and this guy was like, 'you don't mind if I post this video, Olympic Dream do you?' He sent me a message. 

''I didn't think nothing of it. I didn't think it would blow up or anything. I've never met him before but it's gone viral. It's a blessing.''

Just as Isles could be for rugby in America and sevens around the world. 

Contact Toby Robson
Chief rugby writer
Email: toby.robson@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @TobyRobsonNZ

- Fairfax Media

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