Feature | Rugby

Exclusive: Carlin Isles playing in memory of his brother at Tokyo Olympics

The USA rugby sevens star tells Olympic Channel how he plans to honour brother, who was tragically shot dead in November 2020.

By Andrew Binner ·

On November 16 last year, Carlin Isles’ life was tipped upside down.

The USA rugby sevens flyer found out that his brother Chase Isles, 28, had been shot dead in an apartment building in Jackson Township, Ohio. He left behind an 8-year-old daughter.

The brothers were very close, and Chase regularly featured in Carlin's social media videos.

Isles took to Instagram to inform his followers about the tragic incident:

Carlin Isles is known as the fastest rugby player in the world. He is the USA’s leading try-scorer ever (202), and also was the 2017-18 and 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series top scorer.

Should he make the Tokyo Olympics team as expected, he will be scorching up the ground in memory of his brother.

“He's always been a big supporter of mine and probably one of my closest brothers,” Isles told Olympic Channel by video link. “I'll carry Chase on my shoulders, I'm doing this for him.”

“I know that he loves me and he believed in me. He was always my biggest supporter as a man and as an athlete."

The fact that Isles, who triumphed in rugby after a traumatic upbringing, can radiate such positivity in the wake of such devastation is typical of his character.

The former NFL practice squad athlete has over 200k followers on Instagram, where he is almost as well known for his words of wisdom, as he is for his blistering pace.

“The only way for me to show my appreciation is to keep doing what I'm doing, and to do it to the best of my abilities,” he continued.

“We know we are the best in the world on our day”

The 31-year-old competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the USA disappointedly failed to progress from the group stages.

Since then, the Eagles have improved immeasurably. Their second-place finish in 2018-19 represents the team’s improved consistency, and their ability to beat the best in the world.

But how much is the Tokyo Olympics about redemption?

“We are motivated in part by what happened in Rio,” the Ohio native said. “But at the same time, we know we're capable of doing incredible things, and we've already overcome a lot.

“We’ve been a top-two side in the world, so we know that we are the best in the world on our day," he said.

“Our expectations for ourselves are higher, and we have to maintain that. We know that we can be medal contenders. We do everything in a process that when it's time to compete, all the work we have done will put us in a position to be able to win a medal.”

Carlin Isles was the 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series top scorer.

And the scary thing? Isles' speed as improved!

“I’ve definitely got faster (since Rio 2016),” he said with a smile. “I’ve also improved my mental game, with more ability to push myself past my limits.

“I always challenge myself to be better. I understand the game a lot better.

“As a team too, we have more experience, knowledge and wisdom.”

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Competing in two events at Tokyo?

Another regular feature of Isles’ Instagram is his gruelling speed sessions on the athletics track.

He regularly sprints against the likes of World Indoor champion Mike Rogers, and has even trained with 2004 Olympic gold medallist Justin Gatlin.

No man has ever competed in rugby sevens and athletics at the same Olympics, and Isles hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

“I’d still love to do that,” he said. “I'm probably going to run in the next few weeks and I’ll see where I'm at.

“I missed a lot of training over the past year, but I kept up my fitness and my speed is actually looking good. I'm going to work on some technical things and then give it my best shot on the track over the next few weeks.”

For now, Isles will continue to look forward. With Chase in his heart, he will likely next take the field June 25-26 at the USA Olympic preparation tournament in Los Angeles.