Time Out caught up with Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Caslick in Sydney before she heads to Paris

Footy player (and Australian captain) Charlotte Caslick is about to tackle her third Olympics. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oui, oui, oui!

Alice Ellis
Written by
Alice Ellis
Sydney Editor
Football player Charlotte Caslick kneeling down and holding a football.
Photograph: Anna Kucera for Time Out

Most people go to Paris to eat cheese and drink wine and marvel at the Eiffel Tower. Charlotte Caslick is going there to run really fast, score tries and do everything in her power to get to the top of that tri-level podium and make Australia proud.

This will be the Rugby Sevens’ player’s third Olympics. In her first – eight years ago in Rio – she won gold and became an overnight celeb. The eyes of Australia were on our Women’s Rugby Sevens team – people marvelled at their speed and athleticism, realising that this fast, thrilling, seven-per-side rugby format is a blast to watch, even for non footy fans. 

You could call 2016 and the aftermath this squad’s “Matildas moment”. Little girls and boys looked up to the Sevens girls, lined up for photos with them, and female registration in local Sevens competitions increased by 33 per cent. The moment helped increase acceptance around women playing footy across all codes. The very next year, the AFLW competition launched to great success, and a year later, the NRLW.

Charlotte Caslick
Photograph: Anna Kucera for Time Out

Eventually, though – despite the Women's Sevens team’s ongoing success in World Cups, World Series and Comm Games – the attention on the girls began to fade, simply because Rugby Union, and especially Sevens, doesn’t get much air time here in Australia. “We're constantly number one or two in the world, and Australia just doesn't really know that,” says the Sydney-based athlete.

Caslick – who will captain her Australian team at the Paris Games – knows what a life-changing impact an Olympics can have on a sport and on athletes’ lives, and she hopes to use this Games to bring what she refers to as an “injection of happiness” back into Rugby Sevens – especially for those younger women in her team who haven’t had the eyes of Australia on them before. 

Women's sport fanatic, our Editor Alice Ellis, caught up with Caslick at Rugby Australia’s HQ in Sydney before the team jets off to France (a country that just loves their rugby). We talked about her Olympic prep, coping with jet lag, why performing well means so much to her, her predictions, and her favourite Sydney spots.

You’ve competed in so many international tournaments – what makes an Olympics special to you?

The Olympics is the reason I started playing rugby. [Caslick previously played touch football for Australia, but touch isn’t an Olympic sport.] I think for every kid playing sport growing up, the Olympics is the pinnacle. When I chose touch football as my main sport when I was about 13, it was purely because I loved it. I still love my friendships made through touch, and I could transfer that skill set to rugby to become a professional athlete as well as become an Olympian, because rugby union is a global sport. 

We also play World Cups and Commonwealth Games and our World Series, so the amount of travel I’ve done through rugby is unbelievable. And for Paris to be my third Games (the French just love their rugby), it's set up really nicely for us as a team. If everything goes really well, we should play France in the Olympic semi-final at Stade de France, which is probably going to be one of the best experiences of all of our rugby careers.

Paris is such an iconic city – how do you feel about the Olympics being held right there?

Rio was my first Olympics, and Rio is an incredible city as well – and then Tokyo. But the French just love to party. They create such a great atmosphere around big events. And obviously the city itself is extremely iconic – I think you can see the Eiffel Tower from the athlete's village, which will be so surreal. I think the beach volleyball is actually being played underneath the Eiffel Tower. So we're really excited.

A female athlete holding a footy standing in front of a white wall
Photograph: Anna Kucera for Time Out

I was at the Rio Olympics (as a spectator) and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done – I realised how amazing the Olympics are, because it's actually the only thing that the entire world watches…

Yeah, I love that global aspect of rugby, and the Olympics is like a whole new level of that. And for us as a sport, we are always competing against the other rugby code [rugby league] and other football codes in Australia [especially Aussie Rules].

We mostly play overseas and don't get that much air time back home. So the Olympics is like our one time to really make a mark in Australia, build our fan base. When people do watch us, they love watching us play – they just don't get exposed to us that often.

So it's a really important time to expose our sport to the Australian public – especially young girls and boys.

Yeah, particularly because rugby sevens is such an exciting sport to watch, even if you're not a rugby fan. It’s so fast, skilful and high-scoring. Do you find people are surprised by how exciting it is when they first watch it?

Yeah, the athleticism of it really surprises people, because it's very different to 15-a-side rugby. And it's obviously a short game, so you can just flick it on and then it's done in 15 minutes – it’s easy for anyone to tune into. We often get people being like, oh, we didn't expect you guys to be so skilful or athletic.

When you won Gold at the Rio Olympics, Australia’s attention and the global spotlight was definitely on your team – what was that like?

I was only 21 at the time. So it was a whirlwind, it was fun. I went to Brisbane State High School, which is a big rugby school. I didn't play rugby at school, but I grew up around GPS [Great Public Schools] rugby, which is quite prestigious – I turned up to a game when I got back from Rio, and all these 13- to 17-year-old-boys were in awe of me, which – eight years ago – felt like a huge change in perception of girls playing sport, especially contact sport. A really big shift in culture. When I was at school, boys weren’t excited to see girls playing rugby, let alone lining up to get photos with female players. It was really fun. People loved our team, they loved rugby, and it was a really great injection of happiness back into rugby.

A female athlete standing in front of green and yellow jerseys on the wall
Photograph: Anna Kucera for Time Out

I also remember returning from the Rio Olympics and feeling that shift around interest in women’s sport, and it seemed to keep moving forward from there…

Yeah, I really think we were at the forefront of shifting that. Once we won our gold medal, it became more normal to watch girls playing a contact sport. And then the AFLW started, and the NRLW – suddenly there were so many options for girls to play footy.

And then with the FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia last year – we saw little boys looking up to the Matildas…

Yeah, and I really hope at this Olympics we can do ourselves justice in the sense of performing really well, because our team has been so successful in the last four years since Tokyo: we've won a World Cup, World Series, Commonwealth Games.

We're constantly number one or two in the world, and Australia just doesn't really know that, despite this consistency we've had over such a long period of time.

So I really hope we can perform when it matters – get on the podium in Paris and show Australia how good the girls are. There are some amazing athletes in our group who should be household names. They just haven't had the exposure yet.

What's your Olympic prep like at the moment?

I had Singapore off, just to get into a hard training block, because I wanted to do some extra running to get myself ready. We unfortunately lost one of our key players, Maddie Ashby, to a knee injury. So she’s ruled out, which is devastating – for her and our team. She's the other ballplayer with me. So now we're building that connection with someone else, because myself and her usually never leave the field, it's both of us out there all the time. So that's a bit of a shift, but we've got really great depth in our squad. Pre-Olympics, we go to Montpellier in France, then Madrid for our final World Series event, then Brisbane for some training games against Japan. After that, we just have a couple of weeks training and head back over to Montpellier. That’s like our base, where we go to acclimatise before Paris.

A female athlete holding a footy standing in front of a black wall and net.
Photograph: Anna Kucera for Time Out

Who are the countries to beat?

New Zealand – they won the first half of the World Series. We’re very, very close against them at the moment, so they’re our biggest rival, which has been the case for many years. Also France are really, really good. I think especially with a crowd behind them in Paris, they're going to be very hard to beat. They've got a very experienced and well-balanced squad. And then, USA are probably the other team. That’s my prediction for top four. 

How does it feel going into your third Olympics and being one of the more senior players in the team this time?

I think when I was in Rio, I was – ‘carefree’ probably isn’t the word – maybe a bit naive to the enormity of what we were about to achieve and how much it would change our lives. I think now knowing the impact that winning could have on not just me, but some of my teammates – I really want them to be able to achieve what we got to do in Rio, they deserve it.

So I don't want to say it means more this time, but it’s made me really appreciate the opportunity. I just want to lead the girls well and make sure they're in their best headspace, because physically we'll be ready.

Apart from the Olympics, World Cups, etcetera, you go to about eight different countries for the Sevens Series. How do you cope with all that travel and still perform?

We used to be told when to sleep on planes. But now the approach is basically sleep as much as you can, because the more sleep you get, the better you feel when you land. Once we arrive, we have to get out into the sunshine – that’s the biggest tip I have for jet lag, just get out into the daylight. Get into the ocean if there is an ocean, and do things in the day that keep you awake. 

Quickfire questions:

Favourite beach? Bronte. I like the ocean pool there.

Running route? I don't actually run unless I’m in training these days, but when I see everyone running around Centennial Park, I actually get tempted to do it.

Walking track? I like walking Bondi to Bronte. You can’t beat those coastal walks.

Favourite restaurant for a casual meal? Matteo in Double Bay. It's just down the road from me, and I love Italian.

Special occasion restaurant? I actually love Shell House. My roommate Jordan is a mad Shell House fan. We usually start in The Dining Room & Terrace, and head up to Sky Bar if we’re celebrating.

Favourite bar? I love the Royal Oak Hotel in Double Bay. And then if we carry on into the night, we usually end up at The Sheath.

What do you like doing on a day off? I actually end up coming and training a lot of the time on my days off, which probably isn't ideal, but I come in and do a little bit of extras, get massages, and then I'll usually go for a swim and sauna. [Allianz] Stadium has an amazing recovery facility, so if I can sneak across there, I love to do that.

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Love French cheese? Head to Raclette Igloo to eat oozy melted cheese and drink mulled wine in a transparent dome on a Sydney rooftop.

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