After a 92-year hiatus, rugby is returning to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Summer Games. The format is called sevens, a fast-paced version of the game that features seven players per team and two halves of seven minutes each.
The USA National Sevens Team qualified for the Olympics by taking home the title at the 2015 NACRA Men's Sevens Championship. The team is anchored by Zack Test, regarded as one of the top players in the world, and Carlin Isles, who has been called the "fastest man in rugby."
We had the opportunity to ask the two rugby stars about the game and how they're preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games.
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STACK: How did you come to learn about and start playing rugby?
Carlin Isles: I first found out about rugby from watching it on the internet and instantly knew it was something I wanted to do. Then I started playing with a club team in Aspen, Colorado, and that was when I really started to learn the sport mentally and physically. I enjoy rugby because it's a feisty sport, and I am feisty, and it utilizes my gift of running.
Zack Test: Rugby, in my opinion, is the ultimate team sport. It brings every aspect from all sports and combines it into this beautiful and brutal display of skill and athleticism. It also has a culture and community passion behind it that makes the world your playground.
I learned the sport from my father Eric, who played the game in college and in medical school. We used to watch some international test matches when I was growing up, so I understood the concepts of the game. I started playing my freshman year of high school for local high school club team Peninsula Green Rugby.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about rugby?
CI: The biggest misconception is that the sport is too dangerous. It's really not as dangerous as people think it is.
ZT: The biggest misconception about rugby is that it's just part of a drinking culture and that it's a game they play in Australia. Rugby, especially in America, has evolved from the misconception of a drinking sport to a very professional culture of a game many people love. In fact, it's the fastest growing sport in America.
What does it feel like to train for the Olympics and be a medal hopeful?
CI: I feel blessed to be in the position I'm in and to be training for the Olympics in both rugby and track and field. I don't train differently. A lot of athletes try to do too much and put too much on themselves, and that creates unnecessary pressure on your mind and body. All I am focusing on is making sure I am as fast as possible and nothing else other than that.
ZT: It's a dream come true. No better motivation than waking up every morning knowing that day could put you ahead of your competition. It is definitely more intense because it is almost here and the anticipation is at an all-time high. I have been preparing for the last four years for the Rio Olympics to ensure I have the right routine and preparation for the Games.
What does a typical day of training look like? Take us through what you focus on in the weight room and on the field.
CI: On a training day, I wake up at 5 a.m. and start training at 5:30, focusing on core and activation work. After that, I'll eat breakfast. Then from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I start training with Team USA Rugby. The first part of our workout is a gym session where I do Squats, Deadlifts, Hurdles, Bench Presses, Lunges, Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows, rolls with dumbbells, core exercises and Medicine Ball Throws. Then we'll have a field session and work on offense and defense, special teams and speed workouts. I definitely try to take care of my body in between each training session, and when I'm done training I'll take an ice bath or go in the hot tub.
ZT: A typical day at the Olympic Training Center involves a gym session at 8 a.m. followed by breakfast and then mobility and treatment in the medical center. We have two field sessions, one before lunch and one afterwards. In the gym, we have days specified for that body day's load. If the day is a high load day, in the gym we will focus on power and strength for upper body and lower body. Medium load days in the gym focus on explosiveness and endurance. Low load days focus on mobility and regeneration. In the field sessions, we focus on our attacking platforms such as starter plays off scrums, lineouts, kickoffs and tap penalties. We also focus on the defensive system of tackling, rucking and general defensive strategies.
How does training for rugby differ from training for other sports?
CI: There are a lot more physical aspects when it comes to training for rugby. You have to train every energy system including anaerobic and aerobic exercises, multidirectional movement, eye-hand coordination as well as contact conditioning. Rugby is basically every sport combined; therefore rugby requires you to train as though you are training for every sport.
ZT: Our training is different from football because we must have a very high level of both endurance and fitness. Our burst of energy has to last at least several minutes, while with football, the burst of energy lasts for a max of about 10 seconds.
Describe a typical day of eating when you are training hard.
CI: On a training day, I typically wake up early and need a good breakfast to keep me going throughout the day. I'll have a hard-boiled egg, steel-cut oatmeal topped with maple syrup and sliced almonds along with mixed fruit. For lunch I'll have grilled chicken breast with mixed fruit, broccoli (one of my favorite vegetables) and a baby spinach salad with sliced almonds. Dinner is one of my favorite meals of the day and typically consists of a good-sized bowl of pasta with grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, asparagus and more mixed fruit. Snacks are really important to have on hand, as my schedule gets hectic and I'm on the road a lot. I like to keep a bag of almonds with me as a quick, go-to snack. They help me stay full and energized until my next meal. Trail mix is also one of my favorite snacks, especially a mix with sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cherries and almonds.
For fluid intake, from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I drink a minimum of three gallons of water. As an athlete, fluid consumption is extremely important, so I definitely stay on top of that.
ZT: On a training day, for breakfast I usually have a smoothie with fruit, almond milk, greens mix and avocado before four over easy eggs with sausage and hash browns. For lunch, I usually have a chicken burger with avocado with a light salad and some sort of oats or protein bar. For dinner, I will have a chicken burrito accompanied by an Israeli salad, which is basically diced cucumber, tomato and avocado with olive oil and salt. I snack on and power up with almonds to keep my energy levels high while training. I also like spicy trail mix made with almonds.
For fluid intake, I will do a smoothie, two protein shakes, one recovery shake and about 10-15 bottles of water per day.
How do you calm your mind when you think about your road to Rio and stepping on the Olympic pitch for the first time?
CI: I am just focusing on doing everything I can possibly do before getting to Rio to make sure I am prepared. I really just put my focus on God and prayer. I know I made it this far for a reason. I always finish things knowing I did my best and that gives me no reason to stress.
ZT: I calm my mind by focusing on the moment I am in. The biggest enemy you have is yourself. If you can teach yourself a technique, such as breathing, to calm and focus your mind, you will be in control of your stress levels.
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