• AFC Women's Olympic Final Qualification Round match between Australia and Vietnam, 2016 in Osaka, Japan. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Countdown to Rio: We meet the young sixteen-year-old who’s silky skills will be turning heads at the 2016 games.
By
Nicky Breen

Source:
Zela
19 Jul 2016 - 11:25 AM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2016 - 11:30 AM

Much has been made of Ellie Carpenter’s rise to fame; the country girl-turned-crack defender, the first millennial to make the Matildas. But the 16-year-old footballer will face her biggest challenge yet, when she pulls on the green and gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“It is surreal. It is the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced. I'm still pinching myself. When we were descending in the plane into Rio, I was thinking: 'Wow I'm actually here’,” she says.

It’s a hard won achievement for Carpenter, who’s been playing the round ball game since she was three. Born in Cowra, country New South Wales, she’s the daughter of two P.E. teachers. Athleticism runs in the family. Her older brother, Jeremy, also plays and is currently trying to carve out a career in Portugal.

But it was Carpenter’s talent which truly shone. She made quick progress from those early run outs with the under-fives. By the age of eight, Ellie and her brother were making tri-weekly, 160km round trips to Young, to train with a football New South Wales development squad. They soon added in mid-week 200 kilometre journeys to Canberra to attend the elite Coerver football academy. It was a gruelling schedule but the family made it work.

“We would leave Cowra at 4pm to be in Canberra by 6. We would train there, eat dinner and do homework in the car and be back in Cowra by around 11pm. We did this for just over two years. Travelling hundreds of kilometres and patience was a normal part of our life.”

“We would leave Cowra at 4pm to be in Canberra by 6. We would train there, eat dinner and do homework in the car and be back in Cowra by around 11pm. We did this for just over two years. Travelling hundreds of kilometres and patience was a normal part of our life.”

When the young defender wasn’t training she was playing in representative games across the state. The trips got longer and when Carpenter was offered a place with Westfield Sports’ primary program, in Sydney’s west, she made the difficult decision to move.

The first year was tough. Ellie had left her friends and her father behind to pursue the dream of becoming an elite athlete.

“It was a struggle for all of us to adapt to city life. There were many tears, many moments questioning our decision.”

Adjusting to Sydney may have been difficult, but the young teen quickly ratcheted up a number of sporting achievements. These included selection for the Young Matildas under 17s and under 20s. It was also in the harbour city where she caught the eye of Western Sydney Wanderers’ coach, Norm Boardman.

“I rolled the dice a little bit with her. We signed her after seeing her play a couple of times, only, in the school system and at various games. I had no doubt that we had something, potentially a very, very good player, but I had no idea how quickly she would reach her potential,” he says.

The versatile defender’s ability to help out in attack - overlapping, running at players and putting in a cross - meant she was deployed as a right back for the Wanderers. But Boardman says the sixteen-year-old is capable of operating in a number of positions.

"She rarely loses a one on one tackle, which is extraordinary for someone as young as her"

“She can play centre back if she needs to and she’s got the qualities to play anywhere in the back line, even in holding midfield. She's a good solid defender. She rarely loses a one on one tackle, which is extraordinary for someone as young as her.”

Her performances in the 2015/2016 W-league season opened the door to the Matildas. She first pulled on the green and gold in March, debuting in Australia’s 9-0 qualifier win over Vietnam and is now preparing to walk out onto the pitch in Brazil.

“Initially at the qualifiers I was incredibly nervous. After making my debut I can now concentrate at learning how to be a better footballer. I am just listening and watching and always trying to improve and after getting a taste of international competition it just makes you want more. I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm going to take it with both hands and make it count,” she says.

"I am just listening and watching and always trying to improve and after getting a taste of international competition it just makes you want more. I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm going to take it with both hands and make it count."

It’s that attitude, which Boardman attributes to her success as a player. He believes the Olympics will push her further and open up opportunities from around the world. But he’d like to see her remain in Australia.

“I know for certain the Americans will be looking at our team and they’ll like what they see. They’ll be after her and I dare say the Europeans will be after a player like that as well. If she goes overseas, she’s just going to blossom but it’s a little bit early. I think she should do a little bit more here. But certainly she’s got the ability to go overseas and play in the (U.S) college system and throughout Europe.”

Carpenter is unlikely to have her head turned by the presence of international scouts. She’s a player with both feet planted firmly on the ground, whose primary focus is to absorb as much as possible.

“It’s very exciting. I want to learn from all of the incredible, international players that have played in such leagues as the Women's Champions league, and the French Women's league, and strive to eventually become one of them!”

More than anything she’s just looking forward to representing her country.

“I am so proud to be Australian. I have grown up with so much opportunity and I'm so grateful that I have choices and can do what I love. To represent Australia is an honour.”

The Women’s Olympic Football Tournament takes place between August 3rd and August 20th. The Australian campaign kicks off against Canada in Sao Paolo at 4am AEST Thursday, 4th August.


For all the latest #WomenInSport articles, videos and updates at SBS Zela like us on Facebook and Twitter

RELATED
Meet the oldest Paralympic athlete heading to Rio, Australia's own Libby Kosmala
Rio will mark Libby Kosmala's twelfth Games.
Ellie Carpenter's sacrificial round trip from Cowra to the Matildas
Life isn’t just about moments. It’s about the sacrifice, resilience and commitment that earns those moments. And the Carpenter “unit” have well and truly earned theirs.
Aislin Jones makes history as Australia's youngest ever Olympic shooter
Australia’s shooting representatives were announced on to the Olympic Team at a selection event in Sydney on Friday. 16-year-old Aislin Jones received her ticket to Rio and with it a place in Australian Olympic history.