<
>

Rio follow-up: Caslick hungry for more after year to remember

play
Caslick eyes back-to-back World Series (1:21)

After a huge 2016, Australian Women's sevens star Charlotte Caslick has one goal in mind to top a Rio gold medal and World Series win, going back-to-back in 2017. (1:21)

It's more than three months since the Australian women's rugby sevens side claimed the first ever Olympic sevens gold medal, but the title "Olympic Champion" remains as surreal as ever for Charlotte Caslick.

With her exciting style of play and trademark braids, Caslick quickly became the face of sevens at the 2016 Rio Games. Hammering in defence and sharp in attack, the scrum-half dominated the competition, scoring seven tries across the three days of play, only missing in two games.

Despite her side's achievements, Caslick continues to be amazed when the public recognizes her -- especially out of uniform.

"Yeah, [I am still walking on air] a little bit," Caslick told ESPN. "It's a massive privilege to be able to classify us in that group of elite athletes - it's obviously the pinnacle of all sports. It's always quite surreal telling someone you're an Olympic gold medallist.

"Sometimes [I don't have to tell people who I am], but I guess we look kind of different from when we play footy to what we do when we're just walking around the streets. Some people definitely do recognise us, which is a bit surreal still as well; we never really expect people to know what we did or anything. But it's always awesome when little kids come over and ask for autographs and stuff like that."

The 21-year-old is no stranger to success. A national 800m champion in primary school and Australian touch football representative at both age-grade and open levels, she made the move to sevens at 18 and quickly caught the eye of coaches.

Caslick won a gold medal at the Australian Youth Games festival in her debut season and was selected in the 2013 Australian World Cup team that competed in Russia. Just over a year later, she was named in World Rugby's 2014-15 Team of the Season and was nominated for the 2015 World Sevens Player of the Year.

It's been a rapid rise for the Queenslander.

"It is crazy, it definitely happened really quickly," Caslick said. "When we first went into it, Rio was our goal and a gold medal was our goal, so for the last four years we've been dreaming about that. But in comparison to other sports it did all happen very quickly."

Securing their first ever World Rugby Sevens Series title just months out from the Olympics, the Aussie girls headed to Rio as clear favourites for gold.

The pressure of expectation could have been an issue, but Caslick said the group learned to block out the white noise and focus only on themselves. In doing just that, the Aussies conceded a mere 34 points for the tournament and wowed a whole new audience with their entertaining attack play.

"I'm not really surprised, I think we play an amazing style of rugby," Caslick said when asked about the group's new-found fame. "If people didn't like watching it I don't know what they're on about. I think the way we play is exciting and fast, and the calibre of players we have on our team; I'm not surprised at all that people loved it.

"I think we've definitely won them over. The reception we got when we came home was just incredible, especially in the non-traditional rugby states of Australia. They all seemed to get behind us as well."

Caslick capped an extraordinary 2016 when she was crowned the World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year, the highest individual honour in the game's shortened form.

"It's awesome," Caslick said. "It's sometimes hard to get individual accolades, especially in a team sport, but it's obviously a representation of how well the team performed this year.

"Without the girls out there I can't do my job properly. I definitely think it's a representation of how we went [this season], and our style of footy we play allows me to play my best I guess."

Caslick's response to the award was typical of her down-to-earth personality, but her work off the field certainly reflects her caring nature.

Working alongside Australian men's Sevens player Jesse Parahai with his company Sense Rugby, the 21-year-old helps children with learning difficulties in providing an opportunity to experience team sports, something they may not otherwise get the chance to do. And she does it purely because she "loves kids".

"It's an awesome group to work for," Caslick said. "I love children and they're kids who struggle to take instructions at a young age, so this gives them a chance to form their own teams or communities.

"Sometimes these kids can get left behind when it comes to team sports, but we've already seen some kids go back to play with their old teams."

Despite a huge 2016 that involved the team winning almost every medal and award, Caslick was disappointing the Aussie side wasn't nominated for World Rugby's Team of the Year Award.

"It was a little bit disappointing [not getting nominated], considering we achieved the exact same goals of what Fiji had done," she said. "But I guess, the position Fiji were in, to win their country's first gold medal ever...

"It's disappointing, but we're not there to win awards. I'm sure the girls will go out next year and just keep playing footy and enjoying what we do. All of that stuff comes when you're just having fun and that breeds success."

Back after a short break, Caslick has returned to training and is focused on the 2016/17 World Series, with the Australians kicking off their title defence in Dubai.

Can 2016 be topped?

"We have to go back-to-back now," Caslick said. "The New Zealand women's team have won back-to-back World Series.

"So for us, this season, it's all about character and backing up what we've done in the last season. We definitely don't want to be one-hit-wonders, so we want to go out there and just keep our consistency up."