Hard lessons drive England World Cup winner Katy McLean in bid for Olympic sevens glory
Fly-half won 15-a-side RWC in 2014 and is now targeting gold in Rio as the sport returns to the Games after a 92-year absence
Katy McLean is eyeing an unprecedented rugby double in Rio de Janeiro as she aims to claim Olympic Games gold two years after captaining England to 15-a-side World Cup glory in 2014.
The 30-year-old fly-half has put her teaching career on hold to pursue a sevens medal with Great Britain at the Olympics, where rugby is returning after a 92-year absence.
McLean admitted she was torn about the prospect of giving up her day job after being offered a central rugby contract which led to her moving from the north east of the country to the England base in Guildford in the south east.
“It was one of those difficult situations where you have two fantastic options,” McLean said.
“We had a new head who I found really inspiring and I would’ve loved to have worked under him. But this was a chance to become a full time professional rugby player.
“I really wanted to do both. But, ultimately, I knew I’d only get one opportunity to be a professional rugby player. I can always go back to teaching.”
McLean was drawn to rugby after watching her father play and began playing at five.
“I remember being in my wellies on the touchline, watching my dad play rugby,” she said.
She continued playing with a boys team until the age of 11 – a quirk that led to predictable sexism on the touchline.
“I remember one guy saying: ‘You need to get the girl. Why’s that girl playing?’ I thought: ‘What’s your problem?’” she said.
She eventually had to give up the sport during her teenage years because of a lack of opportunity, with no women’s or girl’s team nearby to play in.
The ultimate redemption awaited however when she led England to the World Cup in 2014.
“Lifting the trophy was a moment of utter, utter delight...a culmination of all the ups and downs of our careers,” she said.
The women’s sevens tournament is slightly treading into the unknown although McLean will be acquainted with the grand majority of the squad – five of them were alongside her in Paris including sevens captain Emily Scarratt – as they are all English apart from Wales’s Jasmine Joyce.
However, further down the line she knows that retirement awaits – perhaps having defended England’s world crown next year in Ireland – but she will not have second thoughts about a return to the classroom.
“I miss the kids,” she said.
“They give you so much perspective and balance to life. You can get caught in your own little work bubble, and especially being in a year like this (with the Olympic Games coming up) it’s difficult not to.
“The kids always provided that bit of balance on how different life is – and the people I work with, just having a normal life. I do miss it. When I do go back I’ll look forward to that.”